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Don’t Forget to Say “Thank You”: Toward a Modern History of Gratitude

Don’t Forget to Say “Thank You”: Toward a Modern History of Gratitude Abstract Gratitude is much discussed these days as an area of research in the positive psychology movement. But the quality has not been given much historical attention—despite the surge of historical attention to other types of emotional response. This article lays out the evidence for extensive reliance on gratitude in the nineteenth-century United States and its measurable decline in the twentieth century—at least until the recent revival. From childrearing materials to comments on etiquette, both references and conventions shifted measurably. The essay goes on to establish the context for these changes, relating gratitude to developments in gender relations and, particularly, to a heightened sense of self and, arguably, of self-entitlement. Current efforts to promote gratitude operate against the contemporary historical dynamic, and the resulting tensions deserve attention from historians and psychologists alike. These are heady days for studying gratitude. A 2018 New York Times article describes how “ecstatic” people are when they receive an emailed expression of thanks, adding that scholars are finding that most Americans severely underestimate the impact gratitude may have. (The article’s author appropriately thanked readers who made it to the end of her short piece, noting that many do not go beyond the first paragraph or two.) The project described in the article was part of “the growing field” of gratitude research, a major component of the burgeoning well-being movement in American psychology.1 Historians, it will surprise few to note, have not participated in this research current—and this is a missed opportunity. For gratitude has a significant history (as the one major study to date has clearly established)—and a history directly relevant both to the current excitement about gratitude and to the apparent diffidence of large segments of the American public. A century and a half ago, it would have been far less necessary to recommend gratitude with any particular urgency and far less likely to find many middle-class Americans who hesitated around its expression. At least until recently, gratitude has become a measurably less familiar topic for major segments of the national public, a historical finding important for current gratitude advocates and linked as well to larger changes in American culture over the past hundred years or so.2 As psychologists have suggested, gratitude rests at a boundary among emotional responses, “moods and traits,” and of course, from a more social standpoint, manners and even morality. Contemporary well-being advocates sometimes see gratitude as a “life orientation,” aimed at appreciating the positive wherever possible; but others emphasize a more transactional approach, “directed toward an external agency” in return for some kind of substantial aid. Some relationship to empathy seems likely, “predicated on the capacity for recognizing the beneficial actions of other people in one’s life.” For the historian, gratitude is at once an emotional experience—often, for both the individual conveying appreciation and for the recipient—and a potential component of constructive social interactions. As we will see, the modern American decline of gratitude—at least until quite recently—relates both to emotions history and to the history of certain social and familial relationships—and is arguably significant on both counts. ***** There is no question that gratitude was highly valued in traditional Western culture. Cicero touted it as “not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.” Gratitude to God holds a central place in Christianity (as in all the Abrahamic religions), and this emphasis still counts in the United States today. Peter Leithart has traced the evolution of praise for gratitude as a public virtue from Seneca to Shakespeare. Leithart’s impressive intellectual history of the subject notes the centrality of gratitude particularly in the classical period, greasing social and political hierarchies through “favorable responses” to gifts or favors. He notes however several important disruptions of traditional gratitude practices, in various phases of Christianity and particularly with the advent of the Enlightenment: rational individuals had less need for gratitude—the emotion virtually disappeared in economists’ evaluations of market behavior—and to the extent that it reinforced customary hierarchies, the response needed to be directly contested. The French revolution was thus, among other things, an expression of ingratitude. Amid this onslaught, Leithart sees gratitude clearly declining in Western culture, becoming a “soft virtue,” a component of mere etiquette rather than a key element in basic ethics.3 Leithart does, in his final chapters, chart a revival of interest in gratitude among anthropologists and some philosophers from the later nineteenth century onward, but, as we will see, this had no measurable impact on more popular American culture, at least until the past decade or so.4 Leithart’s depiction of the declining social significance of gratitude in Western intellectual life unquestionably bears on a more explicit history of the sentiment in modern America. But it downplays the continued significance of gratitude in American culture through most of the nineteenth century—the starting point for this historical inquiry. To be sure, the subject was a major preoccupation of etiquette authors through the century, but the interest went beyond manners alone. While gratitude may indeed have suffered in the public sphere, and particularly in business relationships in an increasingly competitive economy, it was central to the image of a loving family—in turn, one of the mainstays of middle-class culture as industrialization and urbanization advanced. All of the major types of prescriptive sources normally used in approaching family culture for the period, headed by family and childrearing manuals as well as etiquette books, emphasized the importance of gratitude in bridging hierarchies within the family and both manifesting and supporting familial affection. The limitations of these sources are important and fairly familiar: they were mainly written by mainstream Protestant moralists and aimed primarily at the growing middle class. They illustrate a significant value system that undoubtedly influenced actual reactions and behaviors—as the frequency of gratitude letters in the period suggests—but they do not directly convey the degree of impact their advice generated.5 Nevertheless, the commitment to familial gratitude in this burgeoning advice literature sets a baseline against which subsequent decline—in virtually all of the same prescriptive categories, from family and childrearing guidance to etiquette and self-help books—can be clearly measured. Gratitude simply became less important as growing informality, eager consumerism, and heightened self-centeredness took center stage. Of course, gratitude did not disappear. And variety remained important, even within the middle class; more religious families, for example, maintaining the custom of mealtime grace, suggested an appreciation to God that their more secular counterparts had largely set aside. And part of the decline of gratitude may have rested on assumptions that some perfunctory good manners could simply be assumed on the part of respectable Americans. Some elements of the change, finally, cannot be fully assessed: thank-you notes measurably dropped away, but less-traceable telephone calls and, more recently, emails surely replaced them in part. But the change that can be demonstrated and explained remains significant, as part of several wider shifts in American culture such as the heralded move from an emphasis on character and moral formation (nineteenth century) to a preoccupation with ”personality.”6 The change sets a challenging backdrop for the revival of interest in gratitude in recent decades and—equally important—helps explain why this revival (whether consciously or not) rests on rather different arguments and on a greater need for explicit encouragement, in contrast to the assumptions that marked the mid-nineteenth century. Overall Patterns: The Joys and Limitations of Ngrams The enticingly accessible Google Ngrams may in this case be somewhat misleading. Decline in relative reference does not, of course, mean absolute decline. And in the nineteenth century at least, assumptions about the importance of gratitude may have been so deeply ingrained that explicit discussion, in many literary venues, was simply not necessary—a pattern to be explored momentarily. A degree of secularization of the larger culture, in other words, may not have been decisive for gratitude, at least for some time. However, from the twentieth century, when the declining rate of reference settled into a more stable but quite low level, until the modest resurgence from the 1980s, the Ngrams may be more representative of not just a relative but an absolute dropoff. Here too, however, other evidence must be adduced, lest we press the Google data beyond what is reasonable. For now, the reference graphs suggest a probable overall pattern with a need to recognize more continuity into the nineteenth century than the incidence levels convey. Figure 1. View largeDownload slide Frequency of the word “gratitude” in American English, 1750–2008 (top) and British English (bottom), Google Ngram Viewer, accessed April 11, 20187. Figure 1. View largeDownload slide Frequency of the word “gratitude” in American English, 1750–2008 (top) and British English (bottom), Google Ngram Viewer, accessed April 11, 20187. If “thanks” is substituted for the admittedly more formal term of “gratitude,” slight differences emerge. There is a precipitous late eighteenth-century drop, but then, amid a persistent low-level trend line from the early nineteenth to the later twentieth century, a slight bit of upward movement after 1980. Here too, other data are essential—particularly for the great age of American manners and respectability in the Victorian era; Google Ngrams are just an appetizer. But a basic pattern does emerge, in terms of relative frequency of reference: both “thanks” and “gratitude” dropped, by the later nineteenth century, well below previous levels and did not recover significantly for at least a hundred years—if they have recovered yet. Victorian Culture as Baseline: A Strong Role for Gratitude Prescriptive materials from around the middle of the nineteenth century clearly bear out the first part of the trendlines. Whatever the impact of market economic values on gratitude in the public sphere, the quality continued to draw attention in discussions of more personal relationships. Gratitude, or its equivalence in urging thanks to others, persisted strongly into the middle decades of the nineteenth century, particularly in guidance and behaviors linked to middle-class family life (often with ties as well to acknowledgements of the goodness of God). Several venues, admittedly interrelated, reveal both the strong emphasis on gratitude and the merits that were claimed for it, outside the strictly religious realm. Thus, childrearing and family manuals almost always included considerable, if often scattered, comment on gratitude and thanks. Lydia Child’s extensive invocations were typical. She emphasized the importance of instilling gratitude to God; but she also urged mothers to work hard with their offspring to “excite love, gratitude and respect” for their father—at a time when work was increasingly taking men outside the home. Teaching a child gratitude would do him more good “than any words he can learn.” This general advice was then directed toward specifics: children must say “thank you” for any gifts received; they should express gratitude to servants (a practice that would tend to make the latter “more respectful”—a theme repeated in many advice books); and children should learn to thank each other, a “graceful habit” that should be a basic component of “constant politeness.”8 Approaches of this sort were widely echoed. T. S. Arthur instructed young ladies to acknowledge any courteous gesture gratefully, “as by so going, she will afford the person who offers it [considerable] pleasure.” Women, he urged, sometimes took men for granted—expecting them to offer women their seat as a matter of course: expressing appropriate thanks was the obvious solution.9 Catharine Sedgwick highlighted the pleasure parents gained from children’s thanks; they would later recall “the hours of deepest gratitude.” Parents must also set an example by expressing thanks to each other. Children should also learn to be grateful that they lived in the United States, free from the (unexplained) “dissocial principles” of Europe. Catharine Beecher took a similarly national tone in claiming that gratitude was more abundant, and important, in a democracy (a really interesting argument given our contemporary struggles over democratic harmony and one that breaks from the more traditional idea of gratitude as supporting hierarchy). She also singled out the importance of gratitude among children themselves, with the younger paying appropriate heed to all the assistance offered by their older siblings: “both older and younger children bound to each other by peculiar ties of tenderness and gratitude.” “Another point to be aimed at, is, to require children always to acknowledge every act of kindness and attention, either by words or manners. If they are so trained as always to make grateful acknowledgements, when receiving factors, one of the objectionable features in American manners would be avoided.” (The reference here applied to a tendency among the American young to be outspoken, insufficiently deferential; gratitude would heal.) Parents could promote the appropriate socialization by playing games with their kids, for “when young hearts are pleased” it is easier to “make them grateful.”10 A few manuals struck a slightly discordant note, going beyond laments about childish bombast to claim that the age was marked by “unlimited indulgence,” in which too many young people simply forgot to thank their parents for their many services. This must be corrected by careful instruction, not only for the sake of the adults involved but because true gratitude added to the happiness of children themselves, “filling the soul.” And emphasis was again placed on thanking servants: “Always thank the servants for what they do for you,” for “politeness is as desirable in our intercourse with the inmates of the kitchen as with those of the parlour—it promotes kind feelings on both sides.” Other instructions sought to guide children in expressions of gratitude when traveling or after a party, as well as when receiving gifts.11 The emphasis on gratitude—not usually marked by asides about an indulgent culture, as most advisers, though eager to press their point, seemed fairly confident in familial response—persisted in manuals through the later nineteenth century and into the early twentieth. Felix Adler, in a manual reprinted several times around the turn of the century, stressed the role of biblical and classical stories in teaching children gratitude, which he claimed was the second duty of a proper child (after obedience). And gratitude for the many “benefits” received from parents was crucial, whether by verbal thanks, by small services, or by steady progress in “knowledge and moral excellence.”12 Alice Birney, whose early twentieth-century work branched out in new directions by incorporating the research of psychologists like G. Stanley Hall and who also innovated in urging the new practice of offering allowances, struck a fully traditional note when it came to gratitude. “Politeness in the home should be a matter of course”: it was not enough for adults to model courtesy, for “children should see graciousness as well in the manners of those around them.” Gratitude was vital not simply because it was “right” but because it made others “happy and comfortable” and through this helped win true affection. Parents must train children explicitly—rude youngsters were simply badly brought up—but should also be careful to offer warm thanks to children themselves (a possibly new note here).13 Childrearing advice, fairly consistent on the subject and usually hopeful, was linked to signs of actual practice. Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women returned to expressions of gratitude frequently, often describing children’s eagerness to rush off to thank their mother for help of various sorts, frequently signing notes “your grateful friend.” The pleasure described in conveying thanks for Christmas gifts often outstripped descriptions of the gifts themselves. Even more interesting was the frequent association of the emerging practice of celebrating children’s birthdays with the commitment to gratitude. The novel interest in birthdays began to emerge in the late eighteenth century—the first recorded American party, for a twelve-year-old Boston girl, occurred in 1772, and the practice became increasingly common among the middle classes by midcentury. Several factors were involved, including of course the growing attention to children and their individuality. Showing off consumerism was a spur for the upper class. Simply providing young people an occasion for pleasure was an even more important prompt. But an interest in using birthdays, with their (usually modest) gifts and small parties, as a means of helping children learn to express gratitude was an explicit motivation as well. A frequently republished birthday book put the case this way: “And I hope that they thank God for his kindness to them, at least as often as He provides some dear mother or nurse to do the dressing, undressing and feeding for them.”14 Birthday comments by midcentury sometimes repeated the concern about ungrateful offspring, who expected gifts as a matter of course, but continued to express the hope that most young people would respond gratefully to “anyone who has taken trouble with you,” as well as thanking God. Clearly, prescriptive authors assumed that gratitude would play a crucial role in cementing positive, loving family relationships—a social function—while providing emotional pleasure at least to the recipients of thanks and (if sources like Little Women are credited) to the grateful individuals as well. Gratitude also entered strongly into reading materials directed explicitly at children—not surprising, given the overlap with prescriptive authorship. McGuffey’s readers, that amazing nineteenth-century staple, hardly overflowed with references to the quality but supported it strongly. Many stories described the gratitude of animals aided by children and the pleasure this could bring in turn: “a good action is never thrown away.” National heroes and other prominent figures recurrently displayed and received gratitude, as in accounts of the reception of the Marquis de Lafayette or the public reputation of MacCauley. More generally, gratitude was highlighted as an attribute of leadership, characterized at one point more specifically as “manly gratitude.” God, of course, deserved regular thanks: “when you rise in the morning, remember who kept you from danger during the night.” Stories portrayed children grateful for a rescue despite their exhaustion or the desirability of gratitude to sailors who helped bring the world’s bounty to American doors.15 And, while the emotional content was less salient than in the family advice literature, an assumption of abundant gratitude, and guidance about how to express it, not surprisingly filled the manners books of the period. Here was another proliferating genre in the nineteenth century, and, with rare exceptions, it featured both general comments on gratitude and specific instructions on the rituals involved. Indeed, the emphasis on gratitude was a key facet of the overall interest in inculcating middle-class civility, which John Kasson has so persuasively described: “that feeling of kindness and love for our fellow-beings which is expressed in pleasing manners.”16 Clara Moore’s manual talked about the quality in general, with particular attention to the gratitude owed to women for anchoring home and family, but also offered detailed guidance on how to thank for gifts, for visits, for parties. And the priority was clear: “Never fail to make an opportunity, though with inconvenience to yourself, in which to express your thanks.” Cursory gestures—just leaving a card, for example, after a dinner party, instead of offering thanks in person within a week—were unacceptable: lack of time was no excuse. Elizabeth Farrer explained that gestures of gratitude were available to everyone, even in straitened circumstances: “You can always think of something which you can present, and they accept,” in return for a favor.17 A few guides warned against excess, particularly for those new to middle-class life. “Profuse” gratitude might seem insincere, but guests at a party “may express the pleasure the occasion has afforded them.” Returning thanks was sometimes lumped with other instructions, such as not picking one’s teeth or spitting “unless there’s a necessity for it”—arguably a sign of how routine the expectations had become.18 A great deal of attention was devoted to the art of writing appropriate thank-you notes. One compendium expressed concern about the growing use of the word “thanks,” instead of the appropriate “thank you”: “It is as if you did your politeness up in a ball and threw it at the head of your friend.” “No one is hurt by a cordial ‘thank you.’”19 (This particular battle was, obviously, a lost cause even before more serious symptoms set in.) Sarah Hale’s manual characteristically mixed specific advice with larger hymns to the beauty of gratitude. No family can thrive when “the voice of thanksgiving is never heard.” Hale, of course, was directly associated with that great Civil War innovation, the recognition of Thanksgiving as a national holiday. “There is something peculiarly beneficial in seeing a great people, of the most varying creeds and opinions, thus voluntarily uniting to mingle their voices in one common hymn of praise and thanksgiving”—truly the sign of a “Christian republic.” Hale, as editor of the prestigious Godey’s Lady’s Book, argued vigorously for this national recognition from 1846 onward, and her efforts were instrumental in persuading Abraham Lincoln that national acknowledgment, in 1863, would be an important gesture toward unity amid the battles with the Confederacy. The mandate, building on earlier but temporary presidential declarations, dedicated the day to “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” The political component of the gesture is obvious, but it remains true that the recognition of the new national holiday fit squarely with the nineteenth-century emphasis on gratitude as an essential human quality.20 The pervasive interest in gratitude in the nineteenth century, while retaining a religious framework, centered strongly on integrating guidance more fully into the burgeoning literature on family conduct and social manners. And despite a few concerns about the increasing selfishness of children or an impatience with formalities, it assumed a reasonably receptive audience: there were few arguments against competing priorities or efforts to use gratitude as a bulwark against personal indulgence. Advisors pointed to a number of reasons for inculcating gratitude. Reference to the pleasure available to the grateful individual was mentioned only occasionally, though it is worthy of note in light of contemporary developments. Overwhelmingly, however, gratitude was urged because it was due to benevolent others—to God, to parents, to the person who threw a party or helped one down from the carriage: it was simply right, and it made other people happy. Shading off from this, particularly in dealing with peers or inferiors, was a supplementary grasp of gratitude’s role in promoting good service in the future—encouraging parents or older siblings, helping address the ongoing problem of retaining servants, motivating future gifts or assistance. The response that gratitude promoted in others was the main point, in interconnected society, with practical calculation less important than offering emotional reward. Decline The nature of prescriptive advice began to change around the turn of the century, as writers who based their advice on moral authority increasingly gave way to those who relied on psychology and other forms of scientific expertise. This shift undoubtedly helps account for the decline of interest in gratitude—though we will explore a larger context below. At the same time, the sheer number of advice manuals expanded exponentially, now including a vastly greater self-help literature, and a rapidly growing middle class augmented the audience for, and arguably the potential significance of, the various forms of available advice. The reduction in attention to gratitude may have responded to this new audience, less interested in older moral codes, but it surely influenced this audience in turn.21 One sign of change, apart from the new wave of prescriptions, suggested a modest level of suspicion about the kinds of gratitude expressions that had been characteristic in Victorian America. The introduction of a new phrase, early in the twentieth century, suggests a shifting context for gratitude. “Genuinely grateful” was a combination that apparently had not been used in the nineteenth century, when confidence in gratitude ran high. But now it gained currency. Surges in the early and middle decades of the twentieth century then yielded to more modest but steady references into our own day. The innovation was intriguing, indicating a growing need to assure that thanks were genuine, and not simply perfunctory or manipulative. The shift hints at a broader set of changes around gratitude that mark clear departures from Victorian standards. More broadly: from the late nineteenth century onward, but particularly from the 1920s, interest in gratitude began to drop. This does not mean the value disappeared, but only that its priority shifted in the prescriptive literature—most obviously, in the same basic categories explored above for the nineteenth century. And while the impact on ordinary social intercourse or family life is less easy to chart, measurable shifts in manners and periodic if modest increases in complaints about ingratitude (in the 1920s and 1960s most notably) suggest a clear connection.22 It took a while before anyone explicitly noticed that gratitude had dropped, though as we will see, this perception did finally emerge. But we can in fact adduce suggestive evidence from all the venues in which gratitude had previously flourished. Birthdays came first, at least in terms of the most popular descriptions of the new family ritual. References to the celebrations as an occasion for childish gratitude literally disappeared by the 1880s, even as comments on how to organize parties became more routine. The focus now rested squarely on pleasing the young (or other generations that were increasingly involved in celebrating as well). Ladies’ Home Journal made birthday discussions a core topic for several decades after its founding in 1883, and gratitude simply played no role. Birthdays should be “rejoicing jubilees.” “Whatever the specifics, make the day memorable.” “Poor little things, they need all the fun they can get.” None of this is meant to suggest that children were not still urged to say “thank you”; it’s simply that the idea of highlighting the occasion as an opportunity to teach gratitude dropped away. And by the twentieth century, as parties and gifts became ever more elaborate, it became increasingly obvious that children so expected birthday treats as a matter of course that even routine gratitude was sometimes hard to find.23 Slightly later—from the 1920s onward—treatment of gratitude began to shrink in childrearing manuals more generally. Exploration of health issues and other aspects of emotional development gained pride of place. Brief passages on teaching kids to thank were still fairly common, though not invariable. Thus, Parents Magazine, launched in 1925, offers very few comments on this aspect of family manners, with no exploration of any moral context for gratitude. Many articles discussed ethics, conscience, the importance of relationships, even empathy and caring, but explicit reference to gratitude was not part of the package (again, aside from occasional brief references to the importance of saying “thank you”). The same insouciance describes most of the popular books in the field. Hilde Bruch urged that “parents must raise their children in a way that society demands” but without relevant specifics. William Sears, in a section on manners, noted that children should develop the ability to say “thank you” around the age of five, as “the appropriate response anytime anyone gives her anything.” But that was it: no particular urgency, no sense of larger implications. Dr. Spock even waffled a bit on manners, lest young children be regimented too early. “Teaching your child to say ‘How d’do’ or ‘thank you’ is really not the first step”—rather, children should be encouraged to like other people without becoming self-conscious. “Have your child grow up in a ‘considerate’ family.” “Certainly it is also necessary to teach a child just how to be polite and considerate”—but even then a bit of childish resistance may be a desirable sign of independence. A fractious youngster, after all, clearly knows what good manners are—“otherwise he wouldn’t bother to rebel against them”—so there is no reason to make a fuss. And in all this, any real reference to gratitude was absent. Other books, from the 1930s to the century’s end, similarly omitted gratitude in sections on manners, moral development, or social growth or, at most, briefly suggested that parents should teach “polite words” like please and thank you at some appropriate point.24 Figure 2. View largeDownload slide Frequency of the term “genuinely grateful” in American English, 1850–2008, Google Ngram Viewer, accessed April 11, 2018. Figure 2. View largeDownload slide Frequency of the term “genuinely grateful” in American English, 1850–2008, Google Ngram Viewer, accessed April 11, 2018. Even child care encyclopedias offered little comment, despite what was in principle a more systematic topical approach, Thus Sidonie Gruenberg’s massive volume from the mid-1950s touched on gratitude only in dealing with the love a married couple can hope to experience (plus her own prefatory gratitude to her publisher). Parents were urged to thank children for help with chores—this can be welcome “applause” to a teenage girl. Informality was acknowledged: a boy who tells his grandmother that a gift toy is “nifty” can be excused from explicitly saying “thank you.” The only other real advice, under the heading not of manners or morality directly but rather in the category of white lies, dealt with children who must be taught to say “thanks” even for gifts or parties they did not like. As young as six, a youngster can begin to appreciate “the fact that the person who gave it meant to be kind” and should be treated with kindness in return. Otherwise appropriate manners are largely assumed, but with no particular relationship to larger goals or values.25 Characterizing the diminution of a topic, in a genre like childrearing advice, admittedly does not yield a dramatic narrative. We do not claim that the new authorities turned against gratitude or would not have agreed for the most part that habits like thanking were part of common courtesy; there was no open debate. The change simply reveals an implicit sense that this topic no longer had any particular significance and that generalities about fitting into society offered adequate guidance. The same sense of low priority also informed many children’s stories during the same decades, as this genre increased in importance and a new pre-school literature emerged (from the 1940s onward). Comparisons with nineteenth-century material like the McGuffey’s readers are inherently inexact—the earlier readers had targeted slightly older children—but there is no question about a change in tone. Babar the elephant (introduced in 1931) admittedly thanks his “old lady” benefactor repeatedly, but the series was French. The massive Golden Books series, launched in 1942, offered almost no examples of grateful interactions. A father is thanked, in one case, for fixing a child’s dresser, as is a mother on another occasion for repairing a toy—otherwise, parents are strikingly absent as gratitude recipients, despite massive attention to their friendly social interactions with their kids in other respects. A book about nature does mention gratitude to God. The animals of farmer Jones, in a 1953 offering, all say “thank you” for the various kinds of food that they receive, and in another story a pig gets a ride from a garbage man and says, “thank you.” But the most elaborate expressions of thanks—though not too frequent even here—involved parents, particularly fathers, effusively thanking their children for assistance with chores. Thus, an offering on “We Help Daddy” has the father going down on his knees and hugging his son after that latter helped him wash the car, and this theme is repeated throughout, with mother joining in at one point as well. “What would I do without my helpers?” The suggestion here, of a change in family dynamics that might affect the gratitude balance as children’s role in chores began to decline rapidly, is worth noting.26 The main point, again, is the low priority that gratitude seemed to demand by midcentury overall. The Golden Book of Manners duly if briefly noted the routine of saying “please” and “thank you,” so there was no effort to dispute a role in conventional courtesy. But the subject simply lacked importance, allowing occasional and casual references to suffice. Gratitude similarly suffered in the other genre that had blossomed in the nineteenth century, the etiquette book—though the decline here came a bit later, chronologically, than the shift in references where children were concerned. Manners experts had an obvious stake in preserving some of the conventions that had blossomed in the nineteenth century, and they yielded more reluctantly. Emily Post, writing in 1922 (and maintaining the tone in many editions thereafter) offers practical guidance on how to express gratitude with no sense that there was any overarching problem or need to acknowledge changes in habits. She urges that one sign a letter “gratefully” only when a real service has been rendered—as in a surgeon saving the life of a friend—but that thanks should always be abundantly expressed. Thus, models are offered for thank-you notes for wedding or Christmas gifts or visits and parties. Change is implied only in recommendations that some informality in expressions of gratitude is perfectly acceptable and that young people are somewhat more enthusiastic in their phrasing than their elders. While comments like “divine” or “too sweet” might seem excessive, they really are acceptable in conveying genuine emotion. Like her nineteenth-century predecessors, Post does recognize that some thank-you chores can seem onerous. Writing bread-and-butter letters to a mother of a friend after a visit—a mother whom one does not actually know very well—can be intimidating, but one must proceed nevertheless. Neglect would signal the “depths of rudeness.” An awkward note is far better than none, and “older people are always pleased with any expressions from the young that seem friendly and spontaneous.”27 Similarly, Amy Vanderbilt, in 1952, urging that her massive etiquette manual was aimed at guiding people to be “unpretentious” yet mannerly, conveys no particular problem with gratitude. Some rules remain clear: brides must send thank-you notes for wedding presents within three weeks of receipt, and these must be handwritten with no printed “thank you” on the card’s face. Models of notes for acknowledgements after visits as well as in response to gifts are carefully provided, again with the plea that spontaneity, expressions of one’s own personality, must be preferred to any single formula. An encouraging section deals with the socialization of children—even as formal childrearing manuals had turned to other issues. Vanderbilt made it clear that parents must train children properly in expressions of gratitude but that no crisis was involved. It was counterproductive to nag kids about these issues—for example, after a party that a child had not in fact enjoyed. The mother can thank instead, confident that “most children rise to the social graces in their own good time.” In the meantime, parents should model courtesy themselves and give their offspring the chance—for example, by taking them for restaurant meals—to see good manners in practice. No child failed to gain some “social grace” who had well-mannered parents; but there might well be a rebellious period that simply must be tolerated. Even then, parents should murmur their expectations for expressions of thanks in advance of a party as a “friendly review.” Ultimately, gratitude would become “second nature,” even in response to events or presents that the child did not particularly like. Again, Vanderbilt offered clear rules and expectations, much in the pattern established in the nineteenth century, with no particular sense that the times were changing except for a plea for provisional tolerance of negligent kids—in a genre that increasingly depended on combining more traditional gestures with contemporary language and experiences.28 This kind of confident continuity ultimately gave way, however, as “Miss Manners”—a widely-read etiquette guru who was also a keen observer of the society around her—would make abundantly clear by the early twenty-first century. Basic goals persisted: gratitude was important and should be expressed, and there were or should be appropriate codes for doing so. But now, to this expert’s eye, there was no question that habits had deteriorated and that defenders of proper standards were fighting a losing battle. Sheer greed was a problem that required fuller recognition. Many newlyweds, Miss Manners claimed, became so inventive in soliciting gifts from friends and relatives that the idea of thanking anyone frequently disappeared. The whole event might take on the air of a purely commercial transaction, excusing the recipients from feeling any particular gratitude or taking the trouble to respond with a thank-you note. (Shades of the earlier insouciance of market economists.) Or, as a variant, only really big gifts might motivate a response—a selectivity Miss Manners predictably deplored. “Whether or not the gift is as generous as was hoped, you still have to write a letter of thanks.” Miss Manners columns frequently returned to the issue of selective gratitude during the first two decades of the new century.29 Many kinds of parties now seemed to provide barriers to gratitude as well. If the gathering had work implications—entertainment for business purposes—was there now no need to acknowledge the gesture? But the big problem, in Miss Manners view, was generational. Should a young person acknowledge a gift from the grandparents? The older generation would surely say yes, inclined to “go overboard on thank you notes.” But the young cohorts were clearly not so sure. A plea for written acknowledgements—after all, a longstanding etiquette staple—now must be accompanied by some self-doubt: “am I being terribly old-fashioned” in advocating expressions of gratitude “whether one feels it or not?” Signs of rebellion were inescapable even after parties, with many young people complaining about the “burden” involved in any kind of formal acknowledgement in what the expert saw, rather ominously, as “part of the general breakdown of the social contract between guest and host” that was “making a mockery out of hospitality.”30 Miss Manners still hoped that gratitude might be instilled in children, but she surrounded her recommendations with pessimistic sarcasm. Thus: gratitude should develop in childhood “if it is ever going to.” Parents should teach their kids to sit down and write thank-you notes immediately, in letters that “express enthusiastic gratitude with the best artifice they can muster in order to make the emotion seem genuine.” At the least, the ritual should help discipline over-excited youngsters at Christmas: “their little eyelids will droop with boredom in no time.” The distance from the enthusiastic childish gratitude of the nineteenth century needs no further emphasis.31 Deprecation aside, Miss Manners clearly took the change in attitude very seriously. The overall collapse of gratitude was no superficial problem but a core feature of the “crisis of manners” in the world today, which risked undermining social relationships and souring any impulse toward generosity. Not only were codes of manners collapsing, but the whole approach to gratitude risked being stood on its head, with the emotion now seen as a burden on the individual rather than an opportunity to bond with others. “Why should I have to grovel with gratitude just because someone feels like throwing a party?” With etiquette writers almost giving up, and with gratitude receding in other genres such as children’s literature or parental manuals, signs of significant change, at least from the second half of the twentieth century onward, are unmistakable. Again, individual responses varied, and insistence on some forms of acknowledgement did not disappear. Religious families, maintaining for example the custom of grace in thanks for the evening meal, may have retained a habit of gratitude most explicitly, but secularists did not entirely surrender older patterns, including injunctions to children. The proliferation of commercial cards with thank-you messages—though appropriately scorned by the gurus of etiquette—shows an ongoing impulse, if somewhat attenuated. But many older habits were almost certainly weakening, and the main point—a significant reduction in the priority of gratitude—seems clear enough. And this in itself signaled a revealing change in social values. Context Not surprisingly, a number of factors contributed to the dilution of gratitude, some of them already suggested in the reassessments in the various forms of advice literature and the changing nature of prescriptive authorship. While the most important point was a tilt in the balance between American individualism and social obligation, other elements entered in. The decline of gratitude reflected, and encouraged, several of the larger shifts that have been noted in American culture and character. From the interwar decades onward, American (and indeed Western) culture was reshaped by a growing rejection of elaborate codes of etiquette, in a process a Dutch sociologist has persuasively called “informalization.” The notion that nineteenth-century codes and language had become oppressively elaborate showed up in a host of venues—from styles of dress and posture, to conventions at funerals, to the increasingly ubiquitous insistence on the use of first names among casual acquaintances. This was a profound shift in many ways, and it intensified with each passing decade. Inevitably, the process affected expressions of gratitude—easily surpassing whatever nineteenth-century reevaluation was involved in the incipient preference for “thanks” over “thank you.”32 Gratitude conventions could easily be sidestepped in favor of less structured manners. Greater informality and, ultimately, changes in technology thus seriously undermined commitments to letter writing, as well as the language used if letters were written at all. More cursory gestures became common, as in a telephoned thank you or, more recently, a text or email (sometimes, horror of horrors, replacing “thanks” with “thnx”). The informalization factor is obviously important, but it admittedly complicates assessment—particularly in looking at the laments of latter-day etiquette experts. Were briefer and less recorded expressions of thanks a sign of lesser gratitude, or merely a shift in form? Probably a bit of both: the results help explain why gratitude becomes harder to find by the later twentieth century, but they also were consistent with a reduction in commitments not only of time but of emotional intensity. Changes in family life and gender roles unquestionably contributed to shifts in gratitude, and, indeed, implicit disputes over gratitude could express considerable spousal tension.33 Many observers noted a decline in the prestige of the male commitment to “breadwinning,” which had been a central feature of urban reactions to the first phases of industrialization. Social security and unemployment insurance, however inadequate, modified the breadwinner position, as did the 1930 depression, which saw women sometimes substituting for unemployed men. And then, obviously, the more durable surge of wives and mothers into the labor force further contributed to a change in emphasis. Men might well feel they were winning less familial credit for doing their jobs.34 Women’s new work commitments certainly challenged gratitude in several ways. Sociologist Arlie Hochschild studied family reactions in the later twentieth century, finding that only a third of all husbands whose wives went off to work reacted by raising their contributions to the family routine—at least suggesting a lack of gratitude and surely inviting ingratitude from busy wives in return. Even more tellingly, where husbands did pitch in with new effort, they rarely matched their wives’ activity. Expecting some gratitude to reward their novel behaviors, they frequently encountered spouses who understandably wondered why they weren’t doing still more. The imbalance was compounded when, as was often the case, wives periodically sacrificed their own advancement at work for the sake of their husbands’ careers but expected—often in vain—“some parallel gesture of commitment in return.” Though the rebalancing invites further historical analysis, it seems likely that a real gratitude gap opened in many later twentieth-century families, one that may have affected wider attitudes as well.35 Further, the simple fact of women’s new work roles and the way so many were stretched to meet their various commitments (sometimes including disproportionate responsibility in caring for older parents as well) reduced their capacity to maintain what had undoubtedly been a characteristic nineteenth-century assumption of wifely service as the chief gratitude agent of the respectable family. There was less time for letter writing and fulfillment of more traditional codes, which, at the least, increased the acceptance of growing informality. Changes in the position of children factored in as well, even more directly connecting to the kind of adjustments reflected in the prescriptive literature. The recurrent emphasis on parents thanking children itself reflected a recalibration of relationships, compared to the nineteenth century. More broadly, insistence on the parental responsibility for children’s happiness, evoked already in the previous century and instantiated with new practices like the more elaborate birthday party, measurably accelerated by the 1920s. And it easily combined with growing consumerism. The toy industry boomed; responsible parents began filling even infant cribs with store-bought items; and envy was redefined, in articles aimed at teenagers, as a positive virtue in encouraging young people to keep up with fashion. In this environment, many adults and children alike began to take a certain level of gift- and party-giving as givens, simply a standard expression of parental obligation and not worth any elaborate acknowledgement. Children’s entitlement, in other words, began to erode insistence on careful inculcation of gratitude. Again, there is no reason to ignore continuity in injunctions to say “thank you,” but here, too, the priority dropped, and the interaction might easily become more cursory.36 Not surprisingly, parents periodically commented on the shift. Complaints about childish ingratitude, not unknown in the nineteenth century, increased. Thus, as early as the 1940s, some mothers were referring to the now-obligatory birthday parties as akin to a responsibility to organize mob violence; the celebrations had to be done, but they brought no particular joy or rewarding response. Christmas might take on similar overtones: “And we found that our kids were just so ungrateful. They would open their presents and then say, ‘Now what?’” Of course, a sense of entitlement based on rising consumer expectations might affect interactions among adults as well.37 At the same time, the steady decline in expectations about chores arguably reduced occasions for parents to thank their offspring. The idea of a father elaborately acknowledging a child’s help, as in the Golden Books story, suggests how assistance was becoming less common, with the more elaborate gratitude designed to compensate. But over time, the more obvious trend was simply a reduction in what kids did around the house, which not only affected parent-child interactions but could color spousal evaluations as well once mothers entered the formal workforce.38 Growing informality, changes in family roles, and the rise of entitlement undoubtedly provided much of the context around the reassessment of gratitude’s importance; but, by the second half of the twentieth century, these factors were further enhanced by changes in the nature and intensity of American individualism. Dwindling emphasis on gratitude reflected the further focus on the individual and promoted it in turn. A number of studies, intermittently from the 1970s onward, have sought to capture this larger transformation of American standards. Collectively, amid important differences in specifics, the conclusions are twofold: first, the individual began to be valued more highly than social groupings; a traditional tension between individualism and volunteer associations shifted toward the former. This would ultimately yield an absolute decline in belonging, signaled as well by a growing preference for referring to “I” rather than “we.” Second, individualism itself began to highlight personal expression over a former emphasis on work-based competitiveness, in what one observer termed a “startling cultural change.” As one interviewee put it, “I am my own work of art.” Attention to personal styles, health, and attitude accelerated in consequence, just as reference to attachments tended to decline. Evaluations of these changes varied: for Christopher Lasch, the whole shift reflected a disastrous increase in individual narcissism, but others were more optimistic, citing among other things a growing tolerance for differences in individual preferences.39 For our purposes, the growing importance of the self, and the use of the self as a reference point for other values, was the main point. As Robert Bellah suggested, the new mood, seeking self-discovery, clearly downplayed community. “Is this going to work for me now?” was the obvious litmus.40 And this did not bode well for gratitude, which, at least as traditionally cast, shifted focus to others and to obligations beyond the self. Admittedly, explicit gratitude tests were not applied in the national character studies: after all, the main point was simply a declining priority, not elaborate exploration. But the new relationship with individualism did emerge fairly directly in one final twentieth-century genre where gratitude might have found new encouragement. Self-Help Self-help advice had considerable precedent, from the late eighteenth century onward, but the genre really came into its own after World War I, in terms both of proliferation of titles and size and range of readership. The whole self-help idea might seem antithetical to gratitude—after all, whom to thank if one is the author of one’s own fortune—but in fact antecedents had shared in the more traditional appreciation of the virtue, in contrast to their twentieth-century heirs. Thus Benjamin Franklin, Enlightenment heritage withal, frequently touted gratitude in Poor Richard’s Almanack: “the trick is to be grateful when your mood is high and graceful when it is not”; “what separates privilege from entitlement is gratitude.” Horatio Alger, the most famous nineteenth-century American booster, picked up on gratitude, as in his stories for boys—again despite an emphasis on individual hard work and competition. His characters frequently express their thanks for favors ranging from sympathy to loans: people should clearly be grateful to anyone who helped.41 Not so in the types of materials that proliferated in the middle decades of the twentieth century.41 By this point, self-help approaches began to broaden out, reflecting a changing economy in which interactions with others became arguably more important, along with a growing interest in personal motivation. As Dale Carnegie put it—admittedly, aiming particularly at the growing ranks of salesmen—“dealing with people is probably the biggest problem you face.”43 This new scope—as sales of advice books soared over nineteenth-century levels—might have opened the door to wider considerations of gratitude, compensating for the decline in the family advice literature. But this was not the case. Carnegie himself came closest, in trying to teach habits that would win over strangers in the process of salesmanship and business dealing. Discussions of how to create a good first impression and how to show interest in others ran through his popular manual and the training courses he sponsored. The term “appreciation” loomed large in his recommendations; avoid criticism, flatter, make other people feel important, “nourish their self-esteem,” and use “honey” and persuasion. But, with one interesting exception, this kind of appreciation stressed relationships among separate individuals, not the kind of deeper interaction that gratitude required. Only at one point did appreciation spill over, with impressively flowery language: “Try leaving a friendly trail of little sparks of gratitude in your daily trips. You will be surprised at how they will set small flames of friendship that will be rose beacons on your next visit.” But this was a singular claim, not repeated; nor did reference to thanking others supplement the point. Carnegie’s successful salesman subordinated the self only in tactics and manipulation, not in deeper engagements.44 Individualism triumphed even more clearly in the self-help literature that flourished after World War II. Norman Vincent Peale’s central point left little room for social interactions, even though he recommended caring about others so that they would care about you. “Your world is nothing more than the thoughts you have about your experiences.” The individual is the reference point, gratitude is relevant only in the individual’s relationship to God through prayer. This traditional link deserves attention, but it did not inspire further details on thanks or gratitude in a book aimed at teaching people how, as individuals, to shape and control their own lives.45 Later efforts reduced the scope still further. Steven Covey, again stressing the importance of freeing oneself from any dependence and gaining the power of self-activation, briefly allowed for “empathy”—but gratitude won no attention at all in his hymn to the habits of really successful people. Revealingly, the subject came up only in complaints about the ingratitude of others, who “never express appreciation.” Without pressing the evidence too far, it is in fact tempting to argue that the growing emphasis on the self, while it reduced any personal impulse to gratitude, actually increased sensitivity to its absence in one’s surroundings—after all, an empowered individual should be thanked by others, even if he may be disinclined to return the favor. Expanding any lament about ingratitude into discussions of one’s own obligations to others was certainly not in the cards, in a volume that stressed the importance of “winning” and positively shaping one’s own environment. “It is not what happens to us, but our response to what happens to us, that hurts us.” There was no need to school a self-reliant person on how to thank others.46 Thus, while the erosion of gratitude reflected changes in family relationships and obligations, it linked as well to some wider shifts in the balance between self and others. Again, the value did not disappear, particularly in an American society that retained substantial religious commitments and a willingness, at least periodically, to thank God. But there is a high probability that the reduction of references and recommendations concerning gratitude had some connection to changes in actual practice, enhanced as well by the growing relaxation of manners. Even Thanksgiving, though usually eliciting some bows to the importance of appreciation, was increasingly consumed by feasting, football, and preparations for shopping.47 The Recent Revival A new chapter in American connections to gratitude may have opened up by the later 1990s, though the changes are very much still in process, and any full assessment of impact is surely premature. The flurry of academic interest, branching out from the surge of positive psychology that launched formally in 1998, has yielded swift and impressive efforts to promote gratitude as a key component in personal well-being and as a new claimant, as well, in school-based character development programs. The emphasis was prepared by earlier innovations in humanistic psychology, with its emphasis on self-actualization and, more particularly, empathy; but the explicit attention to gratitude and the flurry of research on the subject were new.48 Two points stand out. First, and most obviously, the current enthusiasm for gratitude took shape in the context of a previously declining emphasis on the sentiment in American culture, whether the academic proponents realized this or not. This may help explain not only the intensity of the recent recommendations, seeking at least implicitly to counter a prevailing lack of interest, but also the insistence on novel and heroic measures. It is not sufficient, now, merely to propound gratitude or illustrate instances in the ordinary family routine; people must additionally be urged to keep formal “gratitude books” and to devote some daily time to the explicit enumeration of things to be grateful for. Tension between the new emphasis and the wider cultural setting must also factor in to any ultimate assessment of results: can positive psychology right the ship?49 At least as important is the fact that the new gratitude is not so much a revival of nineteenth-century tradition as an effort to combine a real commitment to this value with a continued recognition of the ascent of the individual. Of course, contemporary gratitude will spill over to others, but the main point, in the wellbeing literature, is on what it does for oneself personally—which as we have seen was a clearly subordinate theme when gratitude was cherished in the past. Gratitude journals, after all, do not necessarily interact with others at all, though they may prove conducive; social linkages take a back seat to individual transformations. “Gratitude is literally one of the few things that can measurably change people’s lives,” not primarily because it connects to others or pleases others but because it forces a recognition of the positive features of one’s own life.50 To be sure, gratitude researchers may note the salutary impact expressions of gratitude have on others—as we noted at the outset; and even those who recommend private journals admit that one might feel even better if one actually thanks someone else. But the individualist twist continues to stand out, in contrast to the more traditional approaches to gratitude that involved bringing happiness, and a sense of obligation, to others. For gratitude was now part of a package emphasizing greater personal life satisfaction. From the 1960s onward, many psychologists had begun to chafe against the conventional emphasis on the darker aspects of life. As Abraham Maslow put it, “the science of psychology has been far more successful on the negative than on the positive side.” It was time to turn away from an exclusive emphasis on problems like depression, toward more attention to human virtues and aspirations—a person’s “full psychological height.” In consequence, at least by the 1990s, a growing number of professional researchers turned their attention to subjects that would link to “well-being, contentment, excitement, cheerfulness, the pursuit of happiness.”51 Figure 3. View largeDownload slide Frequency of the word “gratitude” in American English, 1930–2008, Google Ngram Viewer, accessed April 11, 2018. Figure 3. View largeDownload slide Frequency of the word “gratitude” in American English, 1930–2008, Google Ngram Viewer, accessed April 11, 2018. And this led in turn, at least from 2000 onward, to the new research on gratitude—research that proponents would stress provided a scientific basis for appreciation of gratitude for the first time. The ambition was clear: whether or not researchers were aware of the twentieth-century decline of gratitude (in a research field that pays little attention to cultural trends), they definitely recognized the growing rates of anxiety and depression in American society and were eager to find values that would promote greater satisfaction. Gratitude clearly fit the bill, which was why it was explicitly featured in the 1998 declaration of positive psychology and then promoted systematically in the two decades that followed: the first new book on gratitude was published in 2001.52 Over twenty-five book-length treatments of gratitude would be released, primarily after 2005, with titles like Thanks! How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happy or A Simple Act of Gratitude: How Learning to Say Thank You Changed My Life. The flurry clearly modified the patterns of the later twentieth century, providing a new kind of self-help literature that placed gratitude at the forefront. Parenting manuals and online programs quickly followed: Making Grateful Kids: The Secret to Character Building. New children’s stories included titles like Bear Says Thanks or The Blessings Jar: A Story About Being Thankful.53 Resources for teachers now added gratitude training. The leading academic gratitude expert, R. A. Emmons, urged the integration of gratitude into the learning process, while a book on Gratitude in Education: A Radical View urged teachers to understand how gratitude provides “a powerful learning strategy for students.” Websites, such as Character First Education, worked in the same direction. And there was wider spillover as well. Social media hashtags like #blessed and #grateful became increasingly popular, used among other things by various entertainment celebrities. And, not surprisingly, overall references to gratitude as captured by Google Ngrams, long in decline, began at last to trend upward from the late twentieth century onward.54 Some of the new attention, certainly on the part of experts and popularizers and probably to some extent at least amid a wider public, reflected an explicit desire to battle some of the less pleasant features of American character by the later twentieth century, most particularly the growing sense of entitlement among children and adolescents. A number of titles explicitly contrasted the virtue of gratitude with the “era of entitlement.” Some historical sense, however incomplete, interestingly informs the current movement and, as suggested above, may help explain the demanding new practices that many experts recommended.55 For gratitude is hard work, in this new vision, whether its proponents are fully aware of the hostile recent-historical context or not. Emmons, urging that gratitude is a personal choice, stresses that the quality requires real practice. Adepts must fight against not only a shortage of time (not an entirely new problem) but against the pernicious sense that success is due to one’s own efforts alone. Revealingly, the current emphasis places little stock in manners or etiquette—another contrast with tradition, though perhaps an accurate acknowledgement of predominant informality—personal conversion is the key to the kingdom. But effort will be rewarded. Aside from the sheer speed of the new gratitude movement, the emphasis on individual benefit is its most striking feature—arguably a clear (if not really explicit) attempt to marry an older virtue with the dominant values of contemporary culture. On this novel personal basis, gratitude may be a virtual panacea, “a powerful way for anyone to create all of the happiness, love, health and prosperity they can imagine through the simple practice of gratitude.” “Feeling gratitude is the fastest way to change every single thing in your life.” The claims embrace experts as well as popularizers, in a field where admittedly the boundary lines are somewhat fluid. Thus Emmons, in offering a twenty-one-day program for “emotional prosperity”: “Gratitude helps heal, energizes and transforms lives in myriad ways consistent with the notion that virtue is its own reward and produces other rewards.” Obviously, it is too soon to estimate what kind of impact this new surge has generated. Even the uptick in Google Ngrams is, after all, fairly modest compared to traditional levels of emphasis. Gratitude hardly shines through in the current national political climate—though we have a president quick to lament ingratitude—and contemporary levels of anxiety have yet to be dented, collectively, by any grateful positivity. It will be important to continue the assessment over time. Conclusion: History, Gratitude, and Wellbeing Gratitude has a rich if somewhat troubled modern history in the United States. Its evolution contributes to broader findings about changes in American characteristics, shifts in family life, and the corroding implications of growing consumerism; the variety of connections is significant. But the evolution of gratitude itself deserves attention in its own right, given what we know about the earlier importance of the quality in cementing group and family relationships and what is now being highlighted concerning its positive role in personal emotional life. Of course, more work is desirable—this is, again, a newcomer on the historian’s agenda. Gratitude can be explored more fully in children’s literature and more directly in personal documents such as diaries and letters; prescriptive materials can always be usefully tested against a wider range of evidence and probed among different social groups besides the vocal middle classes, and this surely will hold true for gratitude. More attention to the religious context for gratitude is surely warranted, in a society in which levels of religious commitment have remained relatively high but amid important fluctuations. And the possibility of comparison constitutes a clearly useful next step: how do the patterns of change in the United States compare to those in other societies similarly influenced by factors such as growing informality and consumerism but without, perhaps, the same approach to the self? But we already have a real sense of some key trends, which amplify our understanding of how recent American emotional, family, and community patterns differ from those of a century prior. The same history also links to the current interest in reviving gratitude, though it remains to be seen whether the wellbeing advocates will choose to capitalize on the connection. The twentieth-century decline of gratitude certainly underscores the need to develop vigorous strategies to promote the virtue in what had become at best a rather indifferent if not hostile popular environment. It may also add weight to the positive evaluation of gratitude, as a counter to some discouraging modern trends. But historical analysis also calls attention to some of the limitations of the current movement as well. There is no need to dispute the findings of recent psychological research on the positive impact of gratitude on the individual.56 But without pretending the possibility of reviving nineteenth-century culture, there is reason as well to urge more attention to gratitude’s service as a social and familial connector, as an expression of vital interpersonal relationships. Current well-being advocates vigorously insist on distinguishing their efforts from conventional self-help, particularly by referring to their foundation in scientific research. But considerable emphasis on the self is a revealing connection nevertheless, arguably promoting a needlessly limited appreciation of what gratitude involves. Trends in gratitude over the past century have surely reflected changing personal priorities, but they have expressed limitations in social relationships as well. The history involved encompasses individual results but emphasizes the familial and social environment as both contributor and outcome amid the shifting priorities for gratitude. Changes over the past two centuries highlight gratitude’s intriguing quality as part of individual emotional experience and of wider social relationships as well: both facets warrant attention amid the current efforts at revival.57 Footnotes Our thanks to the JSH readers, who offered several helpful suggestions, and to Vyta Baselice for assistance in research and presentation. Noralee Frankel and Deborah Stearns were most generous with scholarly advice. Address correspondence to Peter N. Stearns, Department of History, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA 22030. Email: pstearns@gmu.edu. Ruthann Clay, 365 Sommersby Lane, Troutville, VA 24175. 1 Heather Murphy, “You Should Actually Send that Thank You Note You’ve Been Meaning to Write,” New York Times, July 20, 2018, accessed August 14, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/20/science/thank-you-notes.html. 2 Catharine Maria Sedgwick, Home (Boston, MA, 1839); A. M. Wood, J. J. Froh, and A. W. Geraghty, “Gratitude and Well-Being: A Review and Theoretical Integration,” Clinical Psychology Review 30, no. 7 (2010): 890–905. 3 Peter J. Leithart, Gratitude: An Intellectual History (Waco, TX, 2014). 4 In particular, see Leithart, Gratitude, chapter 10. 5 On parameters of relevant prescriptive literature, see Ann Hulbert, Raising America: Experts, Parents, and a Century of Adviceabout Children (New York, 2003); Stephanie Coontz, Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage (New York, 2006). 6 Warren Susman, Culture as History: The Transformation of American Society in the Twentieth Century (New York, 1984). 7 Google Ngram Viewer is a search application that allows one to measure the frequency of particular terms or words in the Google Books database. While in some ways problematic and obviously not a complete representation, the tool is a helpful way to assess cultural trends and changes. 8 Lydia Child, The Mother’s Book (Boston, MA, 1831), 55, 71, 74, 112, 116. 9 T. S. Arthur, The Young Lady (New York, 1858), 147. 10 Catherine Beecher, The American Woman’s Home (New York, 1869), 165, 207, 278. 11 E. W. Farrar, The Young Lady’s Friend, by a Lady (London, 1837), 124, 134, 157, 233; Louisa May Alcott, Little Women (Boston, 1968), chapter 1 and passim. See also L. H. Sigourney, Letters to Mothers (Hartford, CT, 1838). 12 Felix Adler, The Moral Instruction of Children (New York, 1892), 103, 130, 209, 269. 13 Alice Birney, Childhood (New York, 1905), 121, 122, 125; Elizabeth H. Pleck, Celebrating the Family: Ethnicity, Consumer Culture, and Family Rituals (Cambridge, 2000). See also Peter Stearns, Dante A. Burrichter, and Vyta Baselice, “Debating the Birthday: Innovation and Resistance in Celebrating Children,” Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth, forthcoming. 14 Elizabeth Prentiss, Little Susy’s Six Birthdays (New York, 1857). 15 William H. McGuffey, Eclectic Primer (New York: American Co., 1881), 56; McGuffey, Alternate Sixth Reader (Cincinnati, OH: Antwerp, Bragg, n.d.), 116, 197. 16 John F. Kasson, Rudeness and Civility: Manners in Nineteenth-Century Urban America (New York, 1991), 69. 17 Farrar, The Young Lady’s Friend, by a Lady, 124; Clara Moore, Sensible Etiquette of the Best Society: Customs, Manners, Morals, and Home Culture (Philadelphia, PA, 1878), 101, 393, 398. 18 Wesley R. Andrews, The American Code of Manners (New York, 1880). 19 Andrews, The American Code of Manners, 355. 20 Sara Hale, Manners; or Happy Home and Good Society (Boston, 1868), 316; Pleck, Celebrating the Family. 21 Hulbert, Raising America; Micki McGee, Self Help, Inc.: Makeover Culture in American Life (New York, 2005). There is admittedly some real irony here, given the current psychological interest in gratitude; earlier scholars in the discipline were clearly less interested in the topic. 22 Google Ngram Viewer, the term “ingratitude” in America English, 1800–2006. 23 See also Lebbeus Mitchell, Bobby in Search of a Birthday (Chicago, 1916). 24 W. Sears, Creative Parenting (Montreal, 1982); C. Spock, MD, Baby and Child Care (New York, 1976), 263, and passim; H. Bruck, MD, Don’t Be Afraid of Your Child (New York, 1952); John Rosemond, Parent Power! (Kansas City, 1991). 25 Sidonie Matsner Gruenberg, The New Illustrated Encyclopedia of Child Care and Guidance (New York, 1952), 325, 595. 26 Jean Cushman, We Help Mommy (New York, 1959); Leah Gale, The Animals of Farmer Jones (New York, 1953); Ley Sprague Mitchell, Fix It, Please (New York, 1947); Peggy Parish, My Little Golden Book of Manners (Racine, WI, 1962); Noralee Frankel kindly provided the material in this section. 27 Emily Post, Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics and at Home (New York, 1922), 34, 75–9, 82, 463–75. 28 Amy Vanderbilt, The Complete Book of Etiquette (New York, 1952), 162, 300, 499, 514. 29 Judith Martin, Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior (New York, 1982), 11–15. 30 Martin, Miss Manners’ Guide, 314–15, 515, 619. 31 Martin, Miss Manners’ Guide, 89, 791. 32 Cas Wouters, Infromalization: Manners and Emotionssince 1890 (London, 2007) and Sex and Manners: Female Emancipation in the West, 1890–2000 (London, 2004). 33 The whole subject of family gratitude needs careful attention. Another current project in emotions history, relying on letters to and from Portuguese and Italian immigrants and families back home around 1900, shows how comments on transfers of money almost never involve even modest expressions of thanks—simply because the whole issue seemed a matter of obvious family obligation. Marcelo Borges, “What’s Love Got to do With It? Language of Transnational Affect in the Letters of Portuguese Migrants,” conference presented at the History of Emotions conference, June 1–2, 2018, George Mason University. 34 Eric Gronseth, “The Husband Provider Role: A Critical Appraisal,” in Family Issues of Employed Women in Europe and America, ed. Andree Michel (Leiden, Netherlands, 1971), 11–31; Peter N. Stearns, Be a Man! Males in Modern Society (New York, 1990). 35 Arlie Hochschild, The Time Bind: When Work Becomes Home and Work Becomes Work (New York, 2001), 41, 118. 36 Gary Cross, Kids’ Stuff: Toys and the Changing World of American Childhood (Cambridge, 1997); Peter N. Stearns, Anxious Parents: A History of Modern Childrearing in America (New York, 2003), chapter 5; Susan J. Matt, Keeping Upwith the Joneses: Envy in American Consumer Society, 1890–1930 (Philadelphia, PA, 2003). 37 Pleck, Celebrating the Family; Abha Bhattarai, “‘Our Kids Were Just so Ungrateful’: Why Some Families Are Boycotting Presents This Year,” Washington Post, December 22, 2017, accessed April 10, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com. 38 John D. Krumboltz and Helen Krumboltz, Changing Children’s Behavior (New York, 1972), 17, 46, 81, 101, 113, 125, 177; Sampson Blair, “Children’s Participation in Household Labor,” American Academy of Pediatrics Bulletin (1991): 241–45. 39 Joseph Veroff, Elizabeth Ann Malcolm Douvan, and Richard A. Kulka, The Inner American: A Self-Portrait from 1957–1976 (New York, 1981); Christopher Lasch, The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations (New York, 1991); Daniel Yankelovich, New Rules (New York, 1981); Robert N. Bellah, Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life (Berkeley, CA, 1996); Rupert Wilkinson, The Pursuit of American Character (New York, 1988); Wilkinson, American Touch: The Tough-Guy Tradition and American Character (Westport, CT, 1984); Wilkinson, American Social Character: Modern Interpretation from the 40s to the Present (New York, 1992); Robert D. Putnam, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (New York, 2000); Marc J. Dunkelman, The Vanishing Neighbor: The Transformation of American Community (New York, 2014); and Peter N. Stearns, “American Selfie: Studying the National Character,” Journal of Social History 51, no. 3 (2018): 500–25. 40 Bellah, Habits of the Heart. 41 On Franklin, see Benjamin Franklin Historical Society, Poor Richard’s Almanack, accessed August 14, 2018, http://www.benjamin-franklin-history.org/poor-richards-almanac/; Horatio Alger, A Boy’s Fortune (Philadelphia, PA, 1898), 211, 275; Alger, Phil the Fiddler (New York, 1900), 46, 89, 139, 230. 42 McGee, Self Help, Inc. 43 Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People (Toronto, 1937), 15. 44 Carnegie, How to Win Friends, 44. This manipulative approach may well relate to the new interest, around the same time, in “genuine” gratitude, discussed earlier in this essay. 45 Norman Vincent Peale, The Power of Positive Thinking (New York, 2003), 73, 83. 46 Stephen R. Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: Restoring the Character Ethic (New York, 1989). 47 Pleck, Celebrating the Family. 48 Reham Al Taher, “The 5 Founding Fathers and History of Positive Psychology,” The Positive Psychology Program, February 12, 2015, accessed April 10, 2018, https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/founding-fathers/; John G. Benjafield, A History of Psychology (New York, 2010). For one account of how gratitude was emerging as a research focus, see Martin E. P. Seligman, Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment (New York, 2013). 49 Robert A. Emmons, The Little Book of Gratitude (Portland, OR, 2016). 50 Rhonda Byrne, The Secret Gratitude Book (New York, 2007); Janice Kaplan, The Gratitude Diaries: How a Year Looking on the Bright Side Can Transform Your Life (New York, 2015); John Kralik, A Simple Act of Gratitude: How Leaning to Say Thank You Changed My Life (New York, 2011). 51 Reham Al Taher, “The 5 Founding Fathers and History of Positive Psychology.” 52 Robert Emmons does refer to a decline of gratitude, as a backdrop to his research; his reference though is mainly political—a lessened appreciation for American freedoms—and he does not probe the larger process of change. See Emmons, The Little Book of Gratitude. 53 Jeffrey Froh and Gaicomo Bono, Making Grateful Kids: The Science of Building Character (West Conshohocken, PA, 2014). 54 Kerry Howells, Gratitude in Education: A Radical View (Rotterdam, Netherlands, 2012). 55 Lisa Ferrari, Gratitude and Kindness: A Modern Parents Guide to Raising Children in an Era of Entitlement (Scotts Valley, CA, 2015). 56 Robert A. Emmons and Robin Stern, “Gratitude as a Psychotherapeutic Intervention,” Journal of Clinical Psychology 69, no. 8 (2013): 846–55. 57 Randy A. Sansone and Lori A. Sansone, “Gratitude and Well Being: The Benefits of Appreciation,” Psychiatry 7, no. 11 (2010): 18–22. © The Author(s) 2019. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: journals.permissions@oup.com This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices) http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Journal of Social History Oxford University Press

Don’t Forget to Say “Thank You”: Toward a Modern History of Gratitude

Journal of Social History , Volume Advance Article – Mar 11, 2019

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Oxford University Press
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© The Author(s) 2019. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: journals.permissions@oup.com
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0022-4529
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1527-1897
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10.1093/jsh/shy120
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Abstract

Abstract Gratitude is much discussed these days as an area of research in the positive psychology movement. But the quality has not been given much historical attention—despite the surge of historical attention to other types of emotional response. This article lays out the evidence for extensive reliance on gratitude in the nineteenth-century United States and its measurable decline in the twentieth century—at least until the recent revival. From childrearing materials to comments on etiquette, both references and conventions shifted measurably. The essay goes on to establish the context for these changes, relating gratitude to developments in gender relations and, particularly, to a heightened sense of self and, arguably, of self-entitlement. Current efforts to promote gratitude operate against the contemporary historical dynamic, and the resulting tensions deserve attention from historians and psychologists alike. These are heady days for studying gratitude. A 2018 New York Times article describes how “ecstatic” people are when they receive an emailed expression of thanks, adding that scholars are finding that most Americans severely underestimate the impact gratitude may have. (The article’s author appropriately thanked readers who made it to the end of her short piece, noting that many do not go beyond the first paragraph or two.) The project described in the article was part of “the growing field” of gratitude research, a major component of the burgeoning well-being movement in American psychology.1 Historians, it will surprise few to note, have not participated in this research current—and this is a missed opportunity. For gratitude has a significant history (as the one major study to date has clearly established)—and a history directly relevant both to the current excitement about gratitude and to the apparent diffidence of large segments of the American public. A century and a half ago, it would have been far less necessary to recommend gratitude with any particular urgency and far less likely to find many middle-class Americans who hesitated around its expression. At least until recently, gratitude has become a measurably less familiar topic for major segments of the national public, a historical finding important for current gratitude advocates and linked as well to larger changes in American culture over the past hundred years or so.2 As psychologists have suggested, gratitude rests at a boundary among emotional responses, “moods and traits,” and of course, from a more social standpoint, manners and even morality. Contemporary well-being advocates sometimes see gratitude as a “life orientation,” aimed at appreciating the positive wherever possible; but others emphasize a more transactional approach, “directed toward an external agency” in return for some kind of substantial aid. Some relationship to empathy seems likely, “predicated on the capacity for recognizing the beneficial actions of other people in one’s life.” For the historian, gratitude is at once an emotional experience—often, for both the individual conveying appreciation and for the recipient—and a potential component of constructive social interactions. As we will see, the modern American decline of gratitude—at least until quite recently—relates both to emotions history and to the history of certain social and familial relationships—and is arguably significant on both counts. ***** There is no question that gratitude was highly valued in traditional Western culture. Cicero touted it as “not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.” Gratitude to God holds a central place in Christianity (as in all the Abrahamic religions), and this emphasis still counts in the United States today. Peter Leithart has traced the evolution of praise for gratitude as a public virtue from Seneca to Shakespeare. Leithart’s impressive intellectual history of the subject notes the centrality of gratitude particularly in the classical period, greasing social and political hierarchies through “favorable responses” to gifts or favors. He notes however several important disruptions of traditional gratitude practices, in various phases of Christianity and particularly with the advent of the Enlightenment: rational individuals had less need for gratitude—the emotion virtually disappeared in economists’ evaluations of market behavior—and to the extent that it reinforced customary hierarchies, the response needed to be directly contested. The French revolution was thus, among other things, an expression of ingratitude. Amid this onslaught, Leithart sees gratitude clearly declining in Western culture, becoming a “soft virtue,” a component of mere etiquette rather than a key element in basic ethics.3 Leithart does, in his final chapters, chart a revival of interest in gratitude among anthropologists and some philosophers from the later nineteenth century onward, but, as we will see, this had no measurable impact on more popular American culture, at least until the past decade or so.4 Leithart’s depiction of the declining social significance of gratitude in Western intellectual life unquestionably bears on a more explicit history of the sentiment in modern America. But it downplays the continued significance of gratitude in American culture through most of the nineteenth century—the starting point for this historical inquiry. To be sure, the subject was a major preoccupation of etiquette authors through the century, but the interest went beyond manners alone. While gratitude may indeed have suffered in the public sphere, and particularly in business relationships in an increasingly competitive economy, it was central to the image of a loving family—in turn, one of the mainstays of middle-class culture as industrialization and urbanization advanced. All of the major types of prescriptive sources normally used in approaching family culture for the period, headed by family and childrearing manuals as well as etiquette books, emphasized the importance of gratitude in bridging hierarchies within the family and both manifesting and supporting familial affection. The limitations of these sources are important and fairly familiar: they were mainly written by mainstream Protestant moralists and aimed primarily at the growing middle class. They illustrate a significant value system that undoubtedly influenced actual reactions and behaviors—as the frequency of gratitude letters in the period suggests—but they do not directly convey the degree of impact their advice generated.5 Nevertheless, the commitment to familial gratitude in this burgeoning advice literature sets a baseline against which subsequent decline—in virtually all of the same prescriptive categories, from family and childrearing guidance to etiquette and self-help books—can be clearly measured. Gratitude simply became less important as growing informality, eager consumerism, and heightened self-centeredness took center stage. Of course, gratitude did not disappear. And variety remained important, even within the middle class; more religious families, for example, maintaining the custom of mealtime grace, suggested an appreciation to God that their more secular counterparts had largely set aside. And part of the decline of gratitude may have rested on assumptions that some perfunctory good manners could simply be assumed on the part of respectable Americans. Some elements of the change, finally, cannot be fully assessed: thank-you notes measurably dropped away, but less-traceable telephone calls and, more recently, emails surely replaced them in part. But the change that can be demonstrated and explained remains significant, as part of several wider shifts in American culture such as the heralded move from an emphasis on character and moral formation (nineteenth century) to a preoccupation with ”personality.”6 The change sets a challenging backdrop for the revival of interest in gratitude in recent decades and—equally important—helps explain why this revival (whether consciously or not) rests on rather different arguments and on a greater need for explicit encouragement, in contrast to the assumptions that marked the mid-nineteenth century. Overall Patterns: The Joys and Limitations of Ngrams The enticingly accessible Google Ngrams may in this case be somewhat misleading. Decline in relative reference does not, of course, mean absolute decline. And in the nineteenth century at least, assumptions about the importance of gratitude may have been so deeply ingrained that explicit discussion, in many literary venues, was simply not necessary—a pattern to be explored momentarily. A degree of secularization of the larger culture, in other words, may not have been decisive for gratitude, at least for some time. However, from the twentieth century, when the declining rate of reference settled into a more stable but quite low level, until the modest resurgence from the 1980s, the Ngrams may be more representative of not just a relative but an absolute dropoff. Here too, however, other evidence must be adduced, lest we press the Google data beyond what is reasonable. For now, the reference graphs suggest a probable overall pattern with a need to recognize more continuity into the nineteenth century than the incidence levels convey. Figure 1. View largeDownload slide Frequency of the word “gratitude” in American English, 1750–2008 (top) and British English (bottom), Google Ngram Viewer, accessed April 11, 20187. Figure 1. View largeDownload slide Frequency of the word “gratitude” in American English, 1750–2008 (top) and British English (bottom), Google Ngram Viewer, accessed April 11, 20187. If “thanks” is substituted for the admittedly more formal term of “gratitude,” slight differences emerge. There is a precipitous late eighteenth-century drop, but then, amid a persistent low-level trend line from the early nineteenth to the later twentieth century, a slight bit of upward movement after 1980. Here too, other data are essential—particularly for the great age of American manners and respectability in the Victorian era; Google Ngrams are just an appetizer. But a basic pattern does emerge, in terms of relative frequency of reference: both “thanks” and “gratitude” dropped, by the later nineteenth century, well below previous levels and did not recover significantly for at least a hundred years—if they have recovered yet. Victorian Culture as Baseline: A Strong Role for Gratitude Prescriptive materials from around the middle of the nineteenth century clearly bear out the first part of the trendlines. Whatever the impact of market economic values on gratitude in the public sphere, the quality continued to draw attention in discussions of more personal relationships. Gratitude, or its equivalence in urging thanks to others, persisted strongly into the middle decades of the nineteenth century, particularly in guidance and behaviors linked to middle-class family life (often with ties as well to acknowledgements of the goodness of God). Several venues, admittedly interrelated, reveal both the strong emphasis on gratitude and the merits that were claimed for it, outside the strictly religious realm. Thus, childrearing and family manuals almost always included considerable, if often scattered, comment on gratitude and thanks. Lydia Child’s extensive invocations were typical. She emphasized the importance of instilling gratitude to God; but she also urged mothers to work hard with their offspring to “excite love, gratitude and respect” for their father—at a time when work was increasingly taking men outside the home. Teaching a child gratitude would do him more good “than any words he can learn.” This general advice was then directed toward specifics: children must say “thank you” for any gifts received; they should express gratitude to servants (a practice that would tend to make the latter “more respectful”—a theme repeated in many advice books); and children should learn to thank each other, a “graceful habit” that should be a basic component of “constant politeness.”8 Approaches of this sort were widely echoed. T. S. Arthur instructed young ladies to acknowledge any courteous gesture gratefully, “as by so going, she will afford the person who offers it [considerable] pleasure.” Women, he urged, sometimes took men for granted—expecting them to offer women their seat as a matter of course: expressing appropriate thanks was the obvious solution.9 Catharine Sedgwick highlighted the pleasure parents gained from children’s thanks; they would later recall “the hours of deepest gratitude.” Parents must also set an example by expressing thanks to each other. Children should also learn to be grateful that they lived in the United States, free from the (unexplained) “dissocial principles” of Europe. Catharine Beecher took a similarly national tone in claiming that gratitude was more abundant, and important, in a democracy (a really interesting argument given our contemporary struggles over democratic harmony and one that breaks from the more traditional idea of gratitude as supporting hierarchy). She also singled out the importance of gratitude among children themselves, with the younger paying appropriate heed to all the assistance offered by their older siblings: “both older and younger children bound to each other by peculiar ties of tenderness and gratitude.” “Another point to be aimed at, is, to require children always to acknowledge every act of kindness and attention, either by words or manners. If they are so trained as always to make grateful acknowledgements, when receiving factors, one of the objectionable features in American manners would be avoided.” (The reference here applied to a tendency among the American young to be outspoken, insufficiently deferential; gratitude would heal.) Parents could promote the appropriate socialization by playing games with their kids, for “when young hearts are pleased” it is easier to “make them grateful.”10 A few manuals struck a slightly discordant note, going beyond laments about childish bombast to claim that the age was marked by “unlimited indulgence,” in which too many young people simply forgot to thank their parents for their many services. This must be corrected by careful instruction, not only for the sake of the adults involved but because true gratitude added to the happiness of children themselves, “filling the soul.” And emphasis was again placed on thanking servants: “Always thank the servants for what they do for you,” for “politeness is as desirable in our intercourse with the inmates of the kitchen as with those of the parlour—it promotes kind feelings on both sides.” Other instructions sought to guide children in expressions of gratitude when traveling or after a party, as well as when receiving gifts.11 The emphasis on gratitude—not usually marked by asides about an indulgent culture, as most advisers, though eager to press their point, seemed fairly confident in familial response—persisted in manuals through the later nineteenth century and into the early twentieth. Felix Adler, in a manual reprinted several times around the turn of the century, stressed the role of biblical and classical stories in teaching children gratitude, which he claimed was the second duty of a proper child (after obedience). And gratitude for the many “benefits” received from parents was crucial, whether by verbal thanks, by small services, or by steady progress in “knowledge and moral excellence.”12 Alice Birney, whose early twentieth-century work branched out in new directions by incorporating the research of psychologists like G. Stanley Hall and who also innovated in urging the new practice of offering allowances, struck a fully traditional note when it came to gratitude. “Politeness in the home should be a matter of course”: it was not enough for adults to model courtesy, for “children should see graciousness as well in the manners of those around them.” Gratitude was vital not simply because it was “right” but because it made others “happy and comfortable” and through this helped win true affection. Parents must train children explicitly—rude youngsters were simply badly brought up—but should also be careful to offer warm thanks to children themselves (a possibly new note here).13 Childrearing advice, fairly consistent on the subject and usually hopeful, was linked to signs of actual practice. Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women returned to expressions of gratitude frequently, often describing children’s eagerness to rush off to thank their mother for help of various sorts, frequently signing notes “your grateful friend.” The pleasure described in conveying thanks for Christmas gifts often outstripped descriptions of the gifts themselves. Even more interesting was the frequent association of the emerging practice of celebrating children’s birthdays with the commitment to gratitude. The novel interest in birthdays began to emerge in the late eighteenth century—the first recorded American party, for a twelve-year-old Boston girl, occurred in 1772, and the practice became increasingly common among the middle classes by midcentury. Several factors were involved, including of course the growing attention to children and their individuality. Showing off consumerism was a spur for the upper class. Simply providing young people an occasion for pleasure was an even more important prompt. But an interest in using birthdays, with their (usually modest) gifts and small parties, as a means of helping children learn to express gratitude was an explicit motivation as well. A frequently republished birthday book put the case this way: “And I hope that they thank God for his kindness to them, at least as often as He provides some dear mother or nurse to do the dressing, undressing and feeding for them.”14 Birthday comments by midcentury sometimes repeated the concern about ungrateful offspring, who expected gifts as a matter of course, but continued to express the hope that most young people would respond gratefully to “anyone who has taken trouble with you,” as well as thanking God. Clearly, prescriptive authors assumed that gratitude would play a crucial role in cementing positive, loving family relationships—a social function—while providing emotional pleasure at least to the recipients of thanks and (if sources like Little Women are credited) to the grateful individuals as well. Gratitude also entered strongly into reading materials directed explicitly at children—not surprising, given the overlap with prescriptive authorship. McGuffey’s readers, that amazing nineteenth-century staple, hardly overflowed with references to the quality but supported it strongly. Many stories described the gratitude of animals aided by children and the pleasure this could bring in turn: “a good action is never thrown away.” National heroes and other prominent figures recurrently displayed and received gratitude, as in accounts of the reception of the Marquis de Lafayette or the public reputation of MacCauley. More generally, gratitude was highlighted as an attribute of leadership, characterized at one point more specifically as “manly gratitude.” God, of course, deserved regular thanks: “when you rise in the morning, remember who kept you from danger during the night.” Stories portrayed children grateful for a rescue despite their exhaustion or the desirability of gratitude to sailors who helped bring the world’s bounty to American doors.15 And, while the emotional content was less salient than in the family advice literature, an assumption of abundant gratitude, and guidance about how to express it, not surprisingly filled the manners books of the period. Here was another proliferating genre in the nineteenth century, and, with rare exceptions, it featured both general comments on gratitude and specific instructions on the rituals involved. Indeed, the emphasis on gratitude was a key facet of the overall interest in inculcating middle-class civility, which John Kasson has so persuasively described: “that feeling of kindness and love for our fellow-beings which is expressed in pleasing manners.”16 Clara Moore’s manual talked about the quality in general, with particular attention to the gratitude owed to women for anchoring home and family, but also offered detailed guidance on how to thank for gifts, for visits, for parties. And the priority was clear: “Never fail to make an opportunity, though with inconvenience to yourself, in which to express your thanks.” Cursory gestures—just leaving a card, for example, after a dinner party, instead of offering thanks in person within a week—were unacceptable: lack of time was no excuse. Elizabeth Farrer explained that gestures of gratitude were available to everyone, even in straitened circumstances: “You can always think of something which you can present, and they accept,” in return for a favor.17 A few guides warned against excess, particularly for those new to middle-class life. “Profuse” gratitude might seem insincere, but guests at a party “may express the pleasure the occasion has afforded them.” Returning thanks was sometimes lumped with other instructions, such as not picking one’s teeth or spitting “unless there’s a necessity for it”—arguably a sign of how routine the expectations had become.18 A great deal of attention was devoted to the art of writing appropriate thank-you notes. One compendium expressed concern about the growing use of the word “thanks,” instead of the appropriate “thank you”: “It is as if you did your politeness up in a ball and threw it at the head of your friend.” “No one is hurt by a cordial ‘thank you.’”19 (This particular battle was, obviously, a lost cause even before more serious symptoms set in.) Sarah Hale’s manual characteristically mixed specific advice with larger hymns to the beauty of gratitude. No family can thrive when “the voice of thanksgiving is never heard.” Hale, of course, was directly associated with that great Civil War innovation, the recognition of Thanksgiving as a national holiday. “There is something peculiarly beneficial in seeing a great people, of the most varying creeds and opinions, thus voluntarily uniting to mingle their voices in one common hymn of praise and thanksgiving”—truly the sign of a “Christian republic.” Hale, as editor of the prestigious Godey’s Lady’s Book, argued vigorously for this national recognition from 1846 onward, and her efforts were instrumental in persuading Abraham Lincoln that national acknowledgment, in 1863, would be an important gesture toward unity amid the battles with the Confederacy. The mandate, building on earlier but temporary presidential declarations, dedicated the day to “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” The political component of the gesture is obvious, but it remains true that the recognition of the new national holiday fit squarely with the nineteenth-century emphasis on gratitude as an essential human quality.20 The pervasive interest in gratitude in the nineteenth century, while retaining a religious framework, centered strongly on integrating guidance more fully into the burgeoning literature on family conduct and social manners. And despite a few concerns about the increasing selfishness of children or an impatience with formalities, it assumed a reasonably receptive audience: there were few arguments against competing priorities or efforts to use gratitude as a bulwark against personal indulgence. Advisors pointed to a number of reasons for inculcating gratitude. Reference to the pleasure available to the grateful individual was mentioned only occasionally, though it is worthy of note in light of contemporary developments. Overwhelmingly, however, gratitude was urged because it was due to benevolent others—to God, to parents, to the person who threw a party or helped one down from the carriage: it was simply right, and it made other people happy. Shading off from this, particularly in dealing with peers or inferiors, was a supplementary grasp of gratitude’s role in promoting good service in the future—encouraging parents or older siblings, helping address the ongoing problem of retaining servants, motivating future gifts or assistance. The response that gratitude promoted in others was the main point, in interconnected society, with practical calculation less important than offering emotional reward. Decline The nature of prescriptive advice began to change around the turn of the century, as writers who based their advice on moral authority increasingly gave way to those who relied on psychology and other forms of scientific expertise. This shift undoubtedly helps account for the decline of interest in gratitude—though we will explore a larger context below. At the same time, the sheer number of advice manuals expanded exponentially, now including a vastly greater self-help literature, and a rapidly growing middle class augmented the audience for, and arguably the potential significance of, the various forms of available advice. The reduction in attention to gratitude may have responded to this new audience, less interested in older moral codes, but it surely influenced this audience in turn.21 One sign of change, apart from the new wave of prescriptions, suggested a modest level of suspicion about the kinds of gratitude expressions that had been characteristic in Victorian America. The introduction of a new phrase, early in the twentieth century, suggests a shifting context for gratitude. “Genuinely grateful” was a combination that apparently had not been used in the nineteenth century, when confidence in gratitude ran high. But now it gained currency. Surges in the early and middle decades of the twentieth century then yielded to more modest but steady references into our own day. The innovation was intriguing, indicating a growing need to assure that thanks were genuine, and not simply perfunctory or manipulative. The shift hints at a broader set of changes around gratitude that mark clear departures from Victorian standards. More broadly: from the late nineteenth century onward, but particularly from the 1920s, interest in gratitude began to drop. This does not mean the value disappeared, but only that its priority shifted in the prescriptive literature—most obviously, in the same basic categories explored above for the nineteenth century. And while the impact on ordinary social intercourse or family life is less easy to chart, measurable shifts in manners and periodic if modest increases in complaints about ingratitude (in the 1920s and 1960s most notably) suggest a clear connection.22 It took a while before anyone explicitly noticed that gratitude had dropped, though as we will see, this perception did finally emerge. But we can in fact adduce suggestive evidence from all the venues in which gratitude had previously flourished. Birthdays came first, at least in terms of the most popular descriptions of the new family ritual. References to the celebrations as an occasion for childish gratitude literally disappeared by the 1880s, even as comments on how to organize parties became more routine. The focus now rested squarely on pleasing the young (or other generations that were increasingly involved in celebrating as well). Ladies’ Home Journal made birthday discussions a core topic for several decades after its founding in 1883, and gratitude simply played no role. Birthdays should be “rejoicing jubilees.” “Whatever the specifics, make the day memorable.” “Poor little things, they need all the fun they can get.” None of this is meant to suggest that children were not still urged to say “thank you”; it’s simply that the idea of highlighting the occasion as an opportunity to teach gratitude dropped away. And by the twentieth century, as parties and gifts became ever more elaborate, it became increasingly obvious that children so expected birthday treats as a matter of course that even routine gratitude was sometimes hard to find.23 Slightly later—from the 1920s onward—treatment of gratitude began to shrink in childrearing manuals more generally. Exploration of health issues and other aspects of emotional development gained pride of place. Brief passages on teaching kids to thank were still fairly common, though not invariable. Thus, Parents Magazine, launched in 1925, offers very few comments on this aspect of family manners, with no exploration of any moral context for gratitude. Many articles discussed ethics, conscience, the importance of relationships, even empathy and caring, but explicit reference to gratitude was not part of the package (again, aside from occasional brief references to the importance of saying “thank you”). The same insouciance describes most of the popular books in the field. Hilde Bruch urged that “parents must raise their children in a way that society demands” but without relevant specifics. William Sears, in a section on manners, noted that children should develop the ability to say “thank you” around the age of five, as “the appropriate response anytime anyone gives her anything.” But that was it: no particular urgency, no sense of larger implications. Dr. Spock even waffled a bit on manners, lest young children be regimented too early. “Teaching your child to say ‘How d’do’ or ‘thank you’ is really not the first step”—rather, children should be encouraged to like other people without becoming self-conscious. “Have your child grow up in a ‘considerate’ family.” “Certainly it is also necessary to teach a child just how to be polite and considerate”—but even then a bit of childish resistance may be a desirable sign of independence. A fractious youngster, after all, clearly knows what good manners are—“otherwise he wouldn’t bother to rebel against them”—so there is no reason to make a fuss. And in all this, any real reference to gratitude was absent. Other books, from the 1930s to the century’s end, similarly omitted gratitude in sections on manners, moral development, or social growth or, at most, briefly suggested that parents should teach “polite words” like please and thank you at some appropriate point.24 Figure 2. View largeDownload slide Frequency of the term “genuinely grateful” in American English, 1850–2008, Google Ngram Viewer, accessed April 11, 2018. Figure 2. View largeDownload slide Frequency of the term “genuinely grateful” in American English, 1850–2008, Google Ngram Viewer, accessed April 11, 2018. Even child care encyclopedias offered little comment, despite what was in principle a more systematic topical approach, Thus Sidonie Gruenberg’s massive volume from the mid-1950s touched on gratitude only in dealing with the love a married couple can hope to experience (plus her own prefatory gratitude to her publisher). Parents were urged to thank children for help with chores—this can be welcome “applause” to a teenage girl. Informality was acknowledged: a boy who tells his grandmother that a gift toy is “nifty” can be excused from explicitly saying “thank you.” The only other real advice, under the heading not of manners or morality directly but rather in the category of white lies, dealt with children who must be taught to say “thanks” even for gifts or parties they did not like. As young as six, a youngster can begin to appreciate “the fact that the person who gave it meant to be kind” and should be treated with kindness in return. Otherwise appropriate manners are largely assumed, but with no particular relationship to larger goals or values.25 Characterizing the diminution of a topic, in a genre like childrearing advice, admittedly does not yield a dramatic narrative. We do not claim that the new authorities turned against gratitude or would not have agreed for the most part that habits like thanking were part of common courtesy; there was no open debate. The change simply reveals an implicit sense that this topic no longer had any particular significance and that generalities about fitting into society offered adequate guidance. The same sense of low priority also informed many children’s stories during the same decades, as this genre increased in importance and a new pre-school literature emerged (from the 1940s onward). Comparisons with nineteenth-century material like the McGuffey’s readers are inherently inexact—the earlier readers had targeted slightly older children—but there is no question about a change in tone. Babar the elephant (introduced in 1931) admittedly thanks his “old lady” benefactor repeatedly, but the series was French. The massive Golden Books series, launched in 1942, offered almost no examples of grateful interactions. A father is thanked, in one case, for fixing a child’s dresser, as is a mother on another occasion for repairing a toy—otherwise, parents are strikingly absent as gratitude recipients, despite massive attention to their friendly social interactions with their kids in other respects. A book about nature does mention gratitude to God. The animals of farmer Jones, in a 1953 offering, all say “thank you” for the various kinds of food that they receive, and in another story a pig gets a ride from a garbage man and says, “thank you.” But the most elaborate expressions of thanks—though not too frequent even here—involved parents, particularly fathers, effusively thanking their children for assistance with chores. Thus, an offering on “We Help Daddy” has the father going down on his knees and hugging his son after that latter helped him wash the car, and this theme is repeated throughout, with mother joining in at one point as well. “What would I do without my helpers?” The suggestion here, of a change in family dynamics that might affect the gratitude balance as children’s role in chores began to decline rapidly, is worth noting.26 The main point, again, is the low priority that gratitude seemed to demand by midcentury overall. The Golden Book of Manners duly if briefly noted the routine of saying “please” and “thank you,” so there was no effort to dispute a role in conventional courtesy. But the subject simply lacked importance, allowing occasional and casual references to suffice. Gratitude similarly suffered in the other genre that had blossomed in the nineteenth century, the etiquette book—though the decline here came a bit later, chronologically, than the shift in references where children were concerned. Manners experts had an obvious stake in preserving some of the conventions that had blossomed in the nineteenth century, and they yielded more reluctantly. Emily Post, writing in 1922 (and maintaining the tone in many editions thereafter) offers practical guidance on how to express gratitude with no sense that there was any overarching problem or need to acknowledge changes in habits. She urges that one sign a letter “gratefully” only when a real service has been rendered—as in a surgeon saving the life of a friend—but that thanks should always be abundantly expressed. Thus, models are offered for thank-you notes for wedding or Christmas gifts or visits and parties. Change is implied only in recommendations that some informality in expressions of gratitude is perfectly acceptable and that young people are somewhat more enthusiastic in their phrasing than their elders. While comments like “divine” or “too sweet” might seem excessive, they really are acceptable in conveying genuine emotion. Like her nineteenth-century predecessors, Post does recognize that some thank-you chores can seem onerous. Writing bread-and-butter letters to a mother of a friend after a visit—a mother whom one does not actually know very well—can be intimidating, but one must proceed nevertheless. Neglect would signal the “depths of rudeness.” An awkward note is far better than none, and “older people are always pleased with any expressions from the young that seem friendly and spontaneous.”27 Similarly, Amy Vanderbilt, in 1952, urging that her massive etiquette manual was aimed at guiding people to be “unpretentious” yet mannerly, conveys no particular problem with gratitude. Some rules remain clear: brides must send thank-you notes for wedding presents within three weeks of receipt, and these must be handwritten with no printed “thank you” on the card’s face. Models of notes for acknowledgements after visits as well as in response to gifts are carefully provided, again with the plea that spontaneity, expressions of one’s own personality, must be preferred to any single formula. An encouraging section deals with the socialization of children—even as formal childrearing manuals had turned to other issues. Vanderbilt made it clear that parents must train children properly in expressions of gratitude but that no crisis was involved. It was counterproductive to nag kids about these issues—for example, after a party that a child had not in fact enjoyed. The mother can thank instead, confident that “most children rise to the social graces in their own good time.” In the meantime, parents should model courtesy themselves and give their offspring the chance—for example, by taking them for restaurant meals—to see good manners in practice. No child failed to gain some “social grace” who had well-mannered parents; but there might well be a rebellious period that simply must be tolerated. Even then, parents should murmur their expectations for expressions of thanks in advance of a party as a “friendly review.” Ultimately, gratitude would become “second nature,” even in response to events or presents that the child did not particularly like. Again, Vanderbilt offered clear rules and expectations, much in the pattern established in the nineteenth century, with no particular sense that the times were changing except for a plea for provisional tolerance of negligent kids—in a genre that increasingly depended on combining more traditional gestures with contemporary language and experiences.28 This kind of confident continuity ultimately gave way, however, as “Miss Manners”—a widely-read etiquette guru who was also a keen observer of the society around her—would make abundantly clear by the early twenty-first century. Basic goals persisted: gratitude was important and should be expressed, and there were or should be appropriate codes for doing so. But now, to this expert’s eye, there was no question that habits had deteriorated and that defenders of proper standards were fighting a losing battle. Sheer greed was a problem that required fuller recognition. Many newlyweds, Miss Manners claimed, became so inventive in soliciting gifts from friends and relatives that the idea of thanking anyone frequently disappeared. The whole event might take on the air of a purely commercial transaction, excusing the recipients from feeling any particular gratitude or taking the trouble to respond with a thank-you note. (Shades of the earlier insouciance of market economists.) Or, as a variant, only really big gifts might motivate a response—a selectivity Miss Manners predictably deplored. “Whether or not the gift is as generous as was hoped, you still have to write a letter of thanks.” Miss Manners columns frequently returned to the issue of selective gratitude during the first two decades of the new century.29 Many kinds of parties now seemed to provide barriers to gratitude as well. If the gathering had work implications—entertainment for business purposes—was there now no need to acknowledge the gesture? But the big problem, in Miss Manners view, was generational. Should a young person acknowledge a gift from the grandparents? The older generation would surely say yes, inclined to “go overboard on thank you notes.” But the young cohorts were clearly not so sure. A plea for written acknowledgements—after all, a longstanding etiquette staple—now must be accompanied by some self-doubt: “am I being terribly old-fashioned” in advocating expressions of gratitude “whether one feels it or not?” Signs of rebellion were inescapable even after parties, with many young people complaining about the “burden” involved in any kind of formal acknowledgement in what the expert saw, rather ominously, as “part of the general breakdown of the social contract between guest and host” that was “making a mockery out of hospitality.”30 Miss Manners still hoped that gratitude might be instilled in children, but she surrounded her recommendations with pessimistic sarcasm. Thus: gratitude should develop in childhood “if it is ever going to.” Parents should teach their kids to sit down and write thank-you notes immediately, in letters that “express enthusiastic gratitude with the best artifice they can muster in order to make the emotion seem genuine.” At the least, the ritual should help discipline over-excited youngsters at Christmas: “their little eyelids will droop with boredom in no time.” The distance from the enthusiastic childish gratitude of the nineteenth century needs no further emphasis.31 Deprecation aside, Miss Manners clearly took the change in attitude very seriously. The overall collapse of gratitude was no superficial problem but a core feature of the “crisis of manners” in the world today, which risked undermining social relationships and souring any impulse toward generosity. Not only were codes of manners collapsing, but the whole approach to gratitude risked being stood on its head, with the emotion now seen as a burden on the individual rather than an opportunity to bond with others. “Why should I have to grovel with gratitude just because someone feels like throwing a party?” With etiquette writers almost giving up, and with gratitude receding in other genres such as children’s literature or parental manuals, signs of significant change, at least from the second half of the twentieth century onward, are unmistakable. Again, individual responses varied, and insistence on some forms of acknowledgement did not disappear. Religious families, maintaining for example the custom of grace in thanks for the evening meal, may have retained a habit of gratitude most explicitly, but secularists did not entirely surrender older patterns, including injunctions to children. The proliferation of commercial cards with thank-you messages—though appropriately scorned by the gurus of etiquette—shows an ongoing impulse, if somewhat attenuated. But many older habits were almost certainly weakening, and the main point—a significant reduction in the priority of gratitude—seems clear enough. And this in itself signaled a revealing change in social values. Context Not surprisingly, a number of factors contributed to the dilution of gratitude, some of them already suggested in the reassessments in the various forms of advice literature and the changing nature of prescriptive authorship. While the most important point was a tilt in the balance between American individualism and social obligation, other elements entered in. The decline of gratitude reflected, and encouraged, several of the larger shifts that have been noted in American culture and character. From the interwar decades onward, American (and indeed Western) culture was reshaped by a growing rejection of elaborate codes of etiquette, in a process a Dutch sociologist has persuasively called “informalization.” The notion that nineteenth-century codes and language had become oppressively elaborate showed up in a host of venues—from styles of dress and posture, to conventions at funerals, to the increasingly ubiquitous insistence on the use of first names among casual acquaintances. This was a profound shift in many ways, and it intensified with each passing decade. Inevitably, the process affected expressions of gratitude—easily surpassing whatever nineteenth-century reevaluation was involved in the incipient preference for “thanks” over “thank you.”32 Gratitude conventions could easily be sidestepped in favor of less structured manners. Greater informality and, ultimately, changes in technology thus seriously undermined commitments to letter writing, as well as the language used if letters were written at all. More cursory gestures became common, as in a telephoned thank you or, more recently, a text or email (sometimes, horror of horrors, replacing “thanks” with “thnx”). The informalization factor is obviously important, but it admittedly complicates assessment—particularly in looking at the laments of latter-day etiquette experts. Were briefer and less recorded expressions of thanks a sign of lesser gratitude, or merely a shift in form? Probably a bit of both: the results help explain why gratitude becomes harder to find by the later twentieth century, but they also were consistent with a reduction in commitments not only of time but of emotional intensity. Changes in family life and gender roles unquestionably contributed to shifts in gratitude, and, indeed, implicit disputes over gratitude could express considerable spousal tension.33 Many observers noted a decline in the prestige of the male commitment to “breadwinning,” which had been a central feature of urban reactions to the first phases of industrialization. Social security and unemployment insurance, however inadequate, modified the breadwinner position, as did the 1930 depression, which saw women sometimes substituting for unemployed men. And then, obviously, the more durable surge of wives and mothers into the labor force further contributed to a change in emphasis. Men might well feel they were winning less familial credit for doing their jobs.34 Women’s new work commitments certainly challenged gratitude in several ways. Sociologist Arlie Hochschild studied family reactions in the later twentieth century, finding that only a third of all husbands whose wives went off to work reacted by raising their contributions to the family routine—at least suggesting a lack of gratitude and surely inviting ingratitude from busy wives in return. Even more tellingly, where husbands did pitch in with new effort, they rarely matched their wives’ activity. Expecting some gratitude to reward their novel behaviors, they frequently encountered spouses who understandably wondered why they weren’t doing still more. The imbalance was compounded when, as was often the case, wives periodically sacrificed their own advancement at work for the sake of their husbands’ careers but expected—often in vain—“some parallel gesture of commitment in return.” Though the rebalancing invites further historical analysis, it seems likely that a real gratitude gap opened in many later twentieth-century families, one that may have affected wider attitudes as well.35 Further, the simple fact of women’s new work roles and the way so many were stretched to meet their various commitments (sometimes including disproportionate responsibility in caring for older parents as well) reduced their capacity to maintain what had undoubtedly been a characteristic nineteenth-century assumption of wifely service as the chief gratitude agent of the respectable family. There was less time for letter writing and fulfillment of more traditional codes, which, at the least, increased the acceptance of growing informality. Changes in the position of children factored in as well, even more directly connecting to the kind of adjustments reflected in the prescriptive literature. The recurrent emphasis on parents thanking children itself reflected a recalibration of relationships, compared to the nineteenth century. More broadly, insistence on the parental responsibility for children’s happiness, evoked already in the previous century and instantiated with new practices like the more elaborate birthday party, measurably accelerated by the 1920s. And it easily combined with growing consumerism. The toy industry boomed; responsible parents began filling even infant cribs with store-bought items; and envy was redefined, in articles aimed at teenagers, as a positive virtue in encouraging young people to keep up with fashion. In this environment, many adults and children alike began to take a certain level of gift- and party-giving as givens, simply a standard expression of parental obligation and not worth any elaborate acknowledgement. Children’s entitlement, in other words, began to erode insistence on careful inculcation of gratitude. Again, there is no reason to ignore continuity in injunctions to say “thank you,” but here, too, the priority dropped, and the interaction might easily become more cursory.36 Not surprisingly, parents periodically commented on the shift. Complaints about childish ingratitude, not unknown in the nineteenth century, increased. Thus, as early as the 1940s, some mothers were referring to the now-obligatory birthday parties as akin to a responsibility to organize mob violence; the celebrations had to be done, but they brought no particular joy or rewarding response. Christmas might take on similar overtones: “And we found that our kids were just so ungrateful. They would open their presents and then say, ‘Now what?’” Of course, a sense of entitlement based on rising consumer expectations might affect interactions among adults as well.37 At the same time, the steady decline in expectations about chores arguably reduced occasions for parents to thank their offspring. The idea of a father elaborately acknowledging a child’s help, as in the Golden Books story, suggests how assistance was becoming less common, with the more elaborate gratitude designed to compensate. But over time, the more obvious trend was simply a reduction in what kids did around the house, which not only affected parent-child interactions but could color spousal evaluations as well once mothers entered the formal workforce.38 Growing informality, changes in family roles, and the rise of entitlement undoubtedly provided much of the context around the reassessment of gratitude’s importance; but, by the second half of the twentieth century, these factors were further enhanced by changes in the nature and intensity of American individualism. Dwindling emphasis on gratitude reflected the further focus on the individual and promoted it in turn. A number of studies, intermittently from the 1970s onward, have sought to capture this larger transformation of American standards. Collectively, amid important differences in specifics, the conclusions are twofold: first, the individual began to be valued more highly than social groupings; a traditional tension between individualism and volunteer associations shifted toward the former. This would ultimately yield an absolute decline in belonging, signaled as well by a growing preference for referring to “I” rather than “we.” Second, individualism itself began to highlight personal expression over a former emphasis on work-based competitiveness, in what one observer termed a “startling cultural change.” As one interviewee put it, “I am my own work of art.” Attention to personal styles, health, and attitude accelerated in consequence, just as reference to attachments tended to decline. Evaluations of these changes varied: for Christopher Lasch, the whole shift reflected a disastrous increase in individual narcissism, but others were more optimistic, citing among other things a growing tolerance for differences in individual preferences.39 For our purposes, the growing importance of the self, and the use of the self as a reference point for other values, was the main point. As Robert Bellah suggested, the new mood, seeking self-discovery, clearly downplayed community. “Is this going to work for me now?” was the obvious litmus.40 And this did not bode well for gratitude, which, at least as traditionally cast, shifted focus to others and to obligations beyond the self. Admittedly, explicit gratitude tests were not applied in the national character studies: after all, the main point was simply a declining priority, not elaborate exploration. But the new relationship with individualism did emerge fairly directly in one final twentieth-century genre where gratitude might have found new encouragement. Self-Help Self-help advice had considerable precedent, from the late eighteenth century onward, but the genre really came into its own after World War I, in terms both of proliferation of titles and size and range of readership. The whole self-help idea might seem antithetical to gratitude—after all, whom to thank if one is the author of one’s own fortune—but in fact antecedents had shared in the more traditional appreciation of the virtue, in contrast to their twentieth-century heirs. Thus Benjamin Franklin, Enlightenment heritage withal, frequently touted gratitude in Poor Richard’s Almanack: “the trick is to be grateful when your mood is high and graceful when it is not”; “what separates privilege from entitlement is gratitude.” Horatio Alger, the most famous nineteenth-century American booster, picked up on gratitude, as in his stories for boys—again despite an emphasis on individual hard work and competition. His characters frequently express their thanks for favors ranging from sympathy to loans: people should clearly be grateful to anyone who helped.41 Not so in the types of materials that proliferated in the middle decades of the twentieth century.41 By this point, self-help approaches began to broaden out, reflecting a changing economy in which interactions with others became arguably more important, along with a growing interest in personal motivation. As Dale Carnegie put it—admittedly, aiming particularly at the growing ranks of salesmen—“dealing with people is probably the biggest problem you face.”43 This new scope—as sales of advice books soared over nineteenth-century levels—might have opened the door to wider considerations of gratitude, compensating for the decline in the family advice literature. But this was not the case. Carnegie himself came closest, in trying to teach habits that would win over strangers in the process of salesmanship and business dealing. Discussions of how to create a good first impression and how to show interest in others ran through his popular manual and the training courses he sponsored. The term “appreciation” loomed large in his recommendations; avoid criticism, flatter, make other people feel important, “nourish their self-esteem,” and use “honey” and persuasion. But, with one interesting exception, this kind of appreciation stressed relationships among separate individuals, not the kind of deeper interaction that gratitude required. Only at one point did appreciation spill over, with impressively flowery language: “Try leaving a friendly trail of little sparks of gratitude in your daily trips. You will be surprised at how they will set small flames of friendship that will be rose beacons on your next visit.” But this was a singular claim, not repeated; nor did reference to thanking others supplement the point. Carnegie’s successful salesman subordinated the self only in tactics and manipulation, not in deeper engagements.44 Individualism triumphed even more clearly in the self-help literature that flourished after World War II. Norman Vincent Peale’s central point left little room for social interactions, even though he recommended caring about others so that they would care about you. “Your world is nothing more than the thoughts you have about your experiences.” The individual is the reference point, gratitude is relevant only in the individual’s relationship to God through prayer. This traditional link deserves attention, but it did not inspire further details on thanks or gratitude in a book aimed at teaching people how, as individuals, to shape and control their own lives.45 Later efforts reduced the scope still further. Steven Covey, again stressing the importance of freeing oneself from any dependence and gaining the power of self-activation, briefly allowed for “empathy”—but gratitude won no attention at all in his hymn to the habits of really successful people. Revealingly, the subject came up only in complaints about the ingratitude of others, who “never express appreciation.” Without pressing the evidence too far, it is in fact tempting to argue that the growing emphasis on the self, while it reduced any personal impulse to gratitude, actually increased sensitivity to its absence in one’s surroundings—after all, an empowered individual should be thanked by others, even if he may be disinclined to return the favor. Expanding any lament about ingratitude into discussions of one’s own obligations to others was certainly not in the cards, in a volume that stressed the importance of “winning” and positively shaping one’s own environment. “It is not what happens to us, but our response to what happens to us, that hurts us.” There was no need to school a self-reliant person on how to thank others.46 Thus, while the erosion of gratitude reflected changes in family relationships and obligations, it linked as well to some wider shifts in the balance between self and others. Again, the value did not disappear, particularly in an American society that retained substantial religious commitments and a willingness, at least periodically, to thank God. But there is a high probability that the reduction of references and recommendations concerning gratitude had some connection to changes in actual practice, enhanced as well by the growing relaxation of manners. Even Thanksgiving, though usually eliciting some bows to the importance of appreciation, was increasingly consumed by feasting, football, and preparations for shopping.47 The Recent Revival A new chapter in American connections to gratitude may have opened up by the later 1990s, though the changes are very much still in process, and any full assessment of impact is surely premature. The flurry of academic interest, branching out from the surge of positive psychology that launched formally in 1998, has yielded swift and impressive efforts to promote gratitude as a key component in personal well-being and as a new claimant, as well, in school-based character development programs. The emphasis was prepared by earlier innovations in humanistic psychology, with its emphasis on self-actualization and, more particularly, empathy; but the explicit attention to gratitude and the flurry of research on the subject were new.48 Two points stand out. First, and most obviously, the current enthusiasm for gratitude took shape in the context of a previously declining emphasis on the sentiment in American culture, whether the academic proponents realized this or not. This may help explain not only the intensity of the recent recommendations, seeking at least implicitly to counter a prevailing lack of interest, but also the insistence on novel and heroic measures. It is not sufficient, now, merely to propound gratitude or illustrate instances in the ordinary family routine; people must additionally be urged to keep formal “gratitude books” and to devote some daily time to the explicit enumeration of things to be grateful for. Tension between the new emphasis and the wider cultural setting must also factor in to any ultimate assessment of results: can positive psychology right the ship?49 At least as important is the fact that the new gratitude is not so much a revival of nineteenth-century tradition as an effort to combine a real commitment to this value with a continued recognition of the ascent of the individual. Of course, contemporary gratitude will spill over to others, but the main point, in the wellbeing literature, is on what it does for oneself personally—which as we have seen was a clearly subordinate theme when gratitude was cherished in the past. Gratitude journals, after all, do not necessarily interact with others at all, though they may prove conducive; social linkages take a back seat to individual transformations. “Gratitude is literally one of the few things that can measurably change people’s lives,” not primarily because it connects to others or pleases others but because it forces a recognition of the positive features of one’s own life.50 To be sure, gratitude researchers may note the salutary impact expressions of gratitude have on others—as we noted at the outset; and even those who recommend private journals admit that one might feel even better if one actually thanks someone else. But the individualist twist continues to stand out, in contrast to the more traditional approaches to gratitude that involved bringing happiness, and a sense of obligation, to others. For gratitude was now part of a package emphasizing greater personal life satisfaction. From the 1960s onward, many psychologists had begun to chafe against the conventional emphasis on the darker aspects of life. As Abraham Maslow put it, “the science of psychology has been far more successful on the negative than on the positive side.” It was time to turn away from an exclusive emphasis on problems like depression, toward more attention to human virtues and aspirations—a person’s “full psychological height.” In consequence, at least by the 1990s, a growing number of professional researchers turned their attention to subjects that would link to “well-being, contentment, excitement, cheerfulness, the pursuit of happiness.”51 Figure 3. View largeDownload slide Frequency of the word “gratitude” in American English, 1930–2008, Google Ngram Viewer, accessed April 11, 2018. Figure 3. View largeDownload slide Frequency of the word “gratitude” in American English, 1930–2008, Google Ngram Viewer, accessed April 11, 2018. And this led in turn, at least from 2000 onward, to the new research on gratitude—research that proponents would stress provided a scientific basis for appreciation of gratitude for the first time. The ambition was clear: whether or not researchers were aware of the twentieth-century decline of gratitude (in a research field that pays little attention to cultural trends), they definitely recognized the growing rates of anxiety and depression in American society and were eager to find values that would promote greater satisfaction. Gratitude clearly fit the bill, which was why it was explicitly featured in the 1998 declaration of positive psychology and then promoted systematically in the two decades that followed: the first new book on gratitude was published in 2001.52 Over twenty-five book-length treatments of gratitude would be released, primarily after 2005, with titles like Thanks! How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happy or A Simple Act of Gratitude: How Learning to Say Thank You Changed My Life. The flurry clearly modified the patterns of the later twentieth century, providing a new kind of self-help literature that placed gratitude at the forefront. Parenting manuals and online programs quickly followed: Making Grateful Kids: The Secret to Character Building. New children’s stories included titles like Bear Says Thanks or The Blessings Jar: A Story About Being Thankful.53 Resources for teachers now added gratitude training. The leading academic gratitude expert, R. A. Emmons, urged the integration of gratitude into the learning process, while a book on Gratitude in Education: A Radical View urged teachers to understand how gratitude provides “a powerful learning strategy for students.” Websites, such as Character First Education, worked in the same direction. And there was wider spillover as well. Social media hashtags like #blessed and #grateful became increasingly popular, used among other things by various entertainment celebrities. And, not surprisingly, overall references to gratitude as captured by Google Ngrams, long in decline, began at last to trend upward from the late twentieth century onward.54 Some of the new attention, certainly on the part of experts and popularizers and probably to some extent at least amid a wider public, reflected an explicit desire to battle some of the less pleasant features of American character by the later twentieth century, most particularly the growing sense of entitlement among children and adolescents. A number of titles explicitly contrasted the virtue of gratitude with the “era of entitlement.” Some historical sense, however incomplete, interestingly informs the current movement and, as suggested above, may help explain the demanding new practices that many experts recommended.55 For gratitude is hard work, in this new vision, whether its proponents are fully aware of the hostile recent-historical context or not. Emmons, urging that gratitude is a personal choice, stresses that the quality requires real practice. Adepts must fight against not only a shortage of time (not an entirely new problem) but against the pernicious sense that success is due to one’s own efforts alone. Revealingly, the current emphasis places little stock in manners or etiquette—another contrast with tradition, though perhaps an accurate acknowledgement of predominant informality—personal conversion is the key to the kingdom. But effort will be rewarded. Aside from the sheer speed of the new gratitude movement, the emphasis on individual benefit is its most striking feature—arguably a clear (if not really explicit) attempt to marry an older virtue with the dominant values of contemporary culture. On this novel personal basis, gratitude may be a virtual panacea, “a powerful way for anyone to create all of the happiness, love, health and prosperity they can imagine through the simple practice of gratitude.” “Feeling gratitude is the fastest way to change every single thing in your life.” The claims embrace experts as well as popularizers, in a field where admittedly the boundary lines are somewhat fluid. Thus Emmons, in offering a twenty-one-day program for “emotional prosperity”: “Gratitude helps heal, energizes and transforms lives in myriad ways consistent with the notion that virtue is its own reward and produces other rewards.” Obviously, it is too soon to estimate what kind of impact this new surge has generated. Even the uptick in Google Ngrams is, after all, fairly modest compared to traditional levels of emphasis. Gratitude hardly shines through in the current national political climate—though we have a president quick to lament ingratitude—and contemporary levels of anxiety have yet to be dented, collectively, by any grateful positivity. It will be important to continue the assessment over time. Conclusion: History, Gratitude, and Wellbeing Gratitude has a rich if somewhat troubled modern history in the United States. Its evolution contributes to broader findings about changes in American characteristics, shifts in family life, and the corroding implications of growing consumerism; the variety of connections is significant. But the evolution of gratitude itself deserves attention in its own right, given what we know about the earlier importance of the quality in cementing group and family relationships and what is now being highlighted concerning its positive role in personal emotional life. Of course, more work is desirable—this is, again, a newcomer on the historian’s agenda. Gratitude can be explored more fully in children’s literature and more directly in personal documents such as diaries and letters; prescriptive materials can always be usefully tested against a wider range of evidence and probed among different social groups besides the vocal middle classes, and this surely will hold true for gratitude. More attention to the religious context for gratitude is surely warranted, in a society in which levels of religious commitment have remained relatively high but amid important fluctuations. And the possibility of comparison constitutes a clearly useful next step: how do the patterns of change in the United States compare to those in other societies similarly influenced by factors such as growing informality and consumerism but without, perhaps, the same approach to the self? But we already have a real sense of some key trends, which amplify our understanding of how recent American emotional, family, and community patterns differ from those of a century prior. The same history also links to the current interest in reviving gratitude, though it remains to be seen whether the wellbeing advocates will choose to capitalize on the connection. The twentieth-century decline of gratitude certainly underscores the need to develop vigorous strategies to promote the virtue in what had become at best a rather indifferent if not hostile popular environment. It may also add weight to the positive evaluation of gratitude, as a counter to some discouraging modern trends. But historical analysis also calls attention to some of the limitations of the current movement as well. There is no need to dispute the findings of recent psychological research on the positive impact of gratitude on the individual.56 But without pretending the possibility of reviving nineteenth-century culture, there is reason as well to urge more attention to gratitude’s service as a social and familial connector, as an expression of vital interpersonal relationships. Current well-being advocates vigorously insist on distinguishing their efforts from conventional self-help, particularly by referring to their foundation in scientific research. But considerable emphasis on the self is a revealing connection nevertheless, arguably promoting a needlessly limited appreciation of what gratitude involves. Trends in gratitude over the past century have surely reflected changing personal priorities, but they have expressed limitations in social relationships as well. The history involved encompasses individual results but emphasizes the familial and social environment as both contributor and outcome amid the shifting priorities for gratitude. Changes over the past two centuries highlight gratitude’s intriguing quality as part of individual emotional experience and of wider social relationships as well: both facets warrant attention amid the current efforts at revival.57 Footnotes Our thanks to the JSH readers, who offered several helpful suggestions, and to Vyta Baselice for assistance in research and presentation. Noralee Frankel and Deborah Stearns were most generous with scholarly advice. Address correspondence to Peter N. Stearns, Department of History, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA 22030. Email: pstearns@gmu.edu. Ruthann Clay, 365 Sommersby Lane, Troutville, VA 24175. 1 Heather Murphy, “You Should Actually Send that Thank You Note You’ve Been Meaning to Write,” New York Times, July 20, 2018, accessed August 14, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/20/science/thank-you-notes.html. 2 Catharine Maria Sedgwick, Home (Boston, MA, 1839); A. M. Wood, J. J. Froh, and A. W. Geraghty, “Gratitude and Well-Being: A Review and Theoretical Integration,” Clinical Psychology Review 30, no. 7 (2010): 890–905. 3 Peter J. Leithart, Gratitude: An Intellectual History (Waco, TX, 2014). 4 In particular, see Leithart, Gratitude, chapter 10. 5 On parameters of relevant prescriptive literature, see Ann Hulbert, Raising America: Experts, Parents, and a Century of Adviceabout Children (New York, 2003); Stephanie Coontz, Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage (New York, 2006). 6 Warren Susman, Culture as History: The Transformation of American Society in the Twentieth Century (New York, 1984). 7 Google Ngram Viewer is a search application that allows one to measure the frequency of particular terms or words in the Google Books database. While in some ways problematic and obviously not a complete representation, the tool is a helpful way to assess cultural trends and changes. 8 Lydia Child, The Mother’s Book (Boston, MA, 1831), 55, 71, 74, 112, 116. 9 T. S. Arthur, The Young Lady (New York, 1858), 147. 10 Catherine Beecher, The American Woman’s Home (New York, 1869), 165, 207, 278. 11 E. W. Farrar, The Young Lady’s Friend, by a Lady (London, 1837), 124, 134, 157, 233; Louisa May Alcott, Little Women (Boston, 1968), chapter 1 and passim. See also L. H. Sigourney, Letters to Mothers (Hartford, CT, 1838). 12 Felix Adler, The Moral Instruction of Children (New York, 1892), 103, 130, 209, 269. 13 Alice Birney, Childhood (New York, 1905), 121, 122, 125; Elizabeth H. Pleck, Celebrating the Family: Ethnicity, Consumer Culture, and Family Rituals (Cambridge, 2000). See also Peter Stearns, Dante A. Burrichter, and Vyta Baselice, “Debating the Birthday: Innovation and Resistance in Celebrating Children,” Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth, forthcoming. 14 Elizabeth Prentiss, Little Susy’s Six Birthdays (New York, 1857). 15 William H. McGuffey, Eclectic Primer (New York: American Co., 1881), 56; McGuffey, Alternate Sixth Reader (Cincinnati, OH: Antwerp, Bragg, n.d.), 116, 197. 16 John F. Kasson, Rudeness and Civility: Manners in Nineteenth-Century Urban America (New York, 1991), 69. 17 Farrar, The Young Lady’s Friend, by a Lady, 124; Clara Moore, Sensible Etiquette of the Best Society: Customs, Manners, Morals, and Home Culture (Philadelphia, PA, 1878), 101, 393, 398. 18 Wesley R. Andrews, The American Code of Manners (New York, 1880). 19 Andrews, The American Code of Manners, 355. 20 Sara Hale, Manners; or Happy Home and Good Society (Boston, 1868), 316; Pleck, Celebrating the Family. 21 Hulbert, Raising America; Micki McGee, Self Help, Inc.: Makeover Culture in American Life (New York, 2005). There is admittedly some real irony here, given the current psychological interest in gratitude; earlier scholars in the discipline were clearly less interested in the topic. 22 Google Ngram Viewer, the term “ingratitude” in America English, 1800–2006. 23 See also Lebbeus Mitchell, Bobby in Search of a Birthday (Chicago, 1916). 24 W. Sears, Creative Parenting (Montreal, 1982); C. Spock, MD, Baby and Child Care (New York, 1976), 263, and passim; H. Bruck, MD, Don’t Be Afraid of Your Child (New York, 1952); John Rosemond, Parent Power! (Kansas City, 1991). 25 Sidonie Matsner Gruenberg, The New Illustrated Encyclopedia of Child Care and Guidance (New York, 1952), 325, 595. 26 Jean Cushman, We Help Mommy (New York, 1959); Leah Gale, The Animals of Farmer Jones (New York, 1953); Ley Sprague Mitchell, Fix It, Please (New York, 1947); Peggy Parish, My Little Golden Book of Manners (Racine, WI, 1962); Noralee Frankel kindly provided the material in this section. 27 Emily Post, Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics and at Home (New York, 1922), 34, 75–9, 82, 463–75. 28 Amy Vanderbilt, The Complete Book of Etiquette (New York, 1952), 162, 300, 499, 514. 29 Judith Martin, Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior (New York, 1982), 11–15. 30 Martin, Miss Manners’ Guide, 314–15, 515, 619. 31 Martin, Miss Manners’ Guide, 89, 791. 32 Cas Wouters, Infromalization: Manners and Emotionssince 1890 (London, 2007) and Sex and Manners: Female Emancipation in the West, 1890–2000 (London, 2004). 33 The whole subject of family gratitude needs careful attention. Another current project in emotions history, relying on letters to and from Portuguese and Italian immigrants and families back home around 1900, shows how comments on transfers of money almost never involve even modest expressions of thanks—simply because the whole issue seemed a matter of obvious family obligation. Marcelo Borges, “What’s Love Got to do With It? Language of Transnational Affect in the Letters of Portuguese Migrants,” conference presented at the History of Emotions conference, June 1–2, 2018, George Mason University. 34 Eric Gronseth, “The Husband Provider Role: A Critical Appraisal,” in Family Issues of Employed Women in Europe and America, ed. Andree Michel (Leiden, Netherlands, 1971), 11–31; Peter N. Stearns, Be a Man! Males in Modern Society (New York, 1990). 35 Arlie Hochschild, The Time Bind: When Work Becomes Home and Work Becomes Work (New York, 2001), 41, 118. 36 Gary Cross, Kids’ Stuff: Toys and the Changing World of American Childhood (Cambridge, 1997); Peter N. Stearns, Anxious Parents: A History of Modern Childrearing in America (New York, 2003), chapter 5; Susan J. Matt, Keeping Upwith the Joneses: Envy in American Consumer Society, 1890–1930 (Philadelphia, PA, 2003). 37 Pleck, Celebrating the Family; Abha Bhattarai, “‘Our Kids Were Just so Ungrateful’: Why Some Families Are Boycotting Presents This Year,” Washington Post, December 22, 2017, accessed April 10, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com. 38 John D. Krumboltz and Helen Krumboltz, Changing Children’s Behavior (New York, 1972), 17, 46, 81, 101, 113, 125, 177; Sampson Blair, “Children’s Participation in Household Labor,” American Academy of Pediatrics Bulletin (1991): 241–45. 39 Joseph Veroff, Elizabeth Ann Malcolm Douvan, and Richard A. Kulka, The Inner American: A Self-Portrait from 1957–1976 (New York, 1981); Christopher Lasch, The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations (New York, 1991); Daniel Yankelovich, New Rules (New York, 1981); Robert N. Bellah, Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life (Berkeley, CA, 1996); Rupert Wilkinson, The Pursuit of American Character (New York, 1988); Wilkinson, American Touch: The Tough-Guy Tradition and American Character (Westport, CT, 1984); Wilkinson, American Social Character: Modern Interpretation from the 40s to the Present (New York, 1992); Robert D. Putnam, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (New York, 2000); Marc J. Dunkelman, The Vanishing Neighbor: The Transformation of American Community (New York, 2014); and Peter N. Stearns, “American Selfie: Studying the National Character,” Journal of Social History 51, no. 3 (2018): 500–25. 40 Bellah, Habits of the Heart. 41 On Franklin, see Benjamin Franklin Historical Society, Poor Richard’s Almanack, accessed August 14, 2018, http://www.benjamin-franklin-history.org/poor-richards-almanac/; Horatio Alger, A Boy’s Fortune (Philadelphia, PA, 1898), 211, 275; Alger, Phil the Fiddler (New York, 1900), 46, 89, 139, 230. 42 McGee, Self Help, Inc. 43 Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People (Toronto, 1937), 15. 44 Carnegie, How to Win Friends, 44. This manipulative approach may well relate to the new interest, around the same time, in “genuine” gratitude, discussed earlier in this essay. 45 Norman Vincent Peale, The Power of Positive Thinking (New York, 2003), 73, 83. 46 Stephen R. Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: Restoring the Character Ethic (New York, 1989). 47 Pleck, Celebrating the Family. 48 Reham Al Taher, “The 5 Founding Fathers and History of Positive Psychology,” The Positive Psychology Program, February 12, 2015, accessed April 10, 2018, https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/founding-fathers/; John G. Benjafield, A History of Psychology (New York, 2010). For one account of how gratitude was emerging as a research focus, see Martin E. P. Seligman, Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment (New York, 2013). 49 Robert A. Emmons, The Little Book of Gratitude (Portland, OR, 2016). 50 Rhonda Byrne, The Secret Gratitude Book (New York, 2007); Janice Kaplan, The Gratitude Diaries: How a Year Looking on the Bright Side Can Transform Your Life (New York, 2015); John Kralik, A Simple Act of Gratitude: How Leaning to Say Thank You Changed My Life (New York, 2011). 51 Reham Al Taher, “The 5 Founding Fathers and History of Positive Psychology.” 52 Robert Emmons does refer to a decline of gratitude, as a backdrop to his research; his reference though is mainly political—a lessened appreciation for American freedoms—and he does not probe the larger process of change. See Emmons, The Little Book of Gratitude. 53 Jeffrey Froh and Gaicomo Bono, Making Grateful Kids: The Science of Building Character (West Conshohocken, PA, 2014). 54 Kerry Howells, Gratitude in Education: A Radical View (Rotterdam, Netherlands, 2012). 55 Lisa Ferrari, Gratitude and Kindness: A Modern Parents Guide to Raising Children in an Era of Entitlement (Scotts Valley, CA, 2015). 56 Robert A. Emmons and Robin Stern, “Gratitude as a Psychotherapeutic Intervention,” Journal of Clinical Psychology 69, no. 8 (2013): 846–55. 57 Randy A. Sansone and Lori A. Sansone, “Gratitude and Well Being: The Benefits of Appreciation,” Psychiatry 7, no. 11 (2010): 18–22. © The Author(s) 2019. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: journals.permissions@oup.com This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)

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Journal of Social HistoryOxford University Press

Published: Mar 11, 2019

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